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Proverbs 4:2. Doctrine, Literally something received, handed over; the author so describes it because he received it from his father. The Septuagint and the Vulgate translate by donum, “a gift.”
Proverbs 4:3. Tender and only, “dearly-beloved”—not that Solomon was Bathsheba’s only son (1 Chronicles 3:5).
Proverbs 4:4. Get, Heb. “acquire or buy”—spare no cost. The repetition of the verb makes the injunction more imperative. Forget is a word in Hebrew that takes the preposition from. In the idea of forgetting there is naturally involved that of turning aside or away from the object to be remembered.
Proverbs 4:6. Miller translates the last clause: “Love her, and she shall stand sentry over thee.”
Proverbs 4:7. The first clause of this verse contains only four words, viz: Beginning, or “principal thing;” Wisdom; get wisdom Its terseness has led to various translations. Hitzig and others read: “The highest thing is wisdom.” Miller translates: “As the height of wisdom, get wisdom.” Delitzsch—The beginning of wisdom is: “Get wisdom.” With, not to be taken in the sense of “in connection with,” but “by means of,” or “at the price of.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—Proverbs 4:1-4
THE RECIPROCAL DUTIES OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN
I. Parental Duty. “He taught me.” Solomon, and all children, hare many claims upon their parents to receive from them instruction in the revelation of God.
1. Parents are responsible for the existence of their children. They are the instrumental cause of their child’s being in the world, of his being in that state of probation upon which hang such “infinite possibilities.”
2. The child is so absolutely ignorant of the life into which he comes. Unavoidable ignorance has always a claim upon knowledge, and the claim is assuredly increased in proportion as those who know and those who do not know are related to each other by a divinely constituted bond. “I am a stranger in the earth” is the claim which every child puts in as a reason why he should be instructed and taught in the way in which he should go. “Hide not God’s commandments from me” is the appeal which the child’s ignorance makes to those who have had some experience in the world.
3. Children claim instruction because of their future relationship to others. The neglect of a child’s education is a sin against more than himself. He will come, in his turn, to influence others. Upon his character will depend, in a great degree, the characters and eternal destinies of many in generations yet to come.
4. Children have a claim upon their parents because they belong to God. If a proprietor of land hands over to the cultivator a piece of virgin soil, he does not relinquish his own claim thereby—he demands that his property shall be restored to him increased in value by being brought under cultivation. The child is given to its parent by God in its undeveloped moral condition, but God retains his own inheritance in the gift. He looks for nurture, for cultivation; he demands from the parent such a fulfilment of parental duties as will ensure to Him that His gift shall grow of more and more worth in the moral universe. A day of reckoning on this matter will assuredly come. Solomon recognises the claim which children have upon their parents by recording his own parents’ conduct in relation to himself and by giving us an example of his own method of instructing his children.
II. Filial Duty. “Hear, ye children.” Parents have claims upon their children.
1. From the simple fact of the relationship. A good father claims the obedience of his son because he is that child’s ordained guide and ruler. He is to his son God’s viceregent so long as his commands are in accordance with God’s law.
2. From their larger experience. They have trodden the path which the youth has yet to traverse, they have climbed the hill which rises yet before him, they have tested the worth of the things which will allure him. Their superior knowledge entitles them to say, “Hear the instruction of a father.”
3. From the self-denial which, as parents, they have exercised. All that a good mother and father have done and suffered in order to advance the welfare of their children, their toil and forbearing love, constitutes a powerful claim to their children’s grateful, reverential, attention and love. Solomon here gives an example of the honour in which every child should hold godly parents.
A PARENT’S MOST PRECIOUS GIFT
Good Doctrine. Proverbs 4:2.
1. Because without it there can be no good character. There can be no right feelings towards God unless there has been right teaching about Him. True views of God can only come from true doctrine concerning Him. Without a right view of God there is no motive power to form character. A man must know God as He is before he can begin to follow Him. There must be a true mirror to give a correct reflection.
2. Because if there is not the beginning of a good character, there will be an increasingly bad one. When men have no right doctrine concerning God, in other words, when they do not know Him as He is, they invariably make a God after their own conceptions. They bring God down to their level. “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Psalms 50:21), has been the fatal mistake of men in all ages. If a man falls overboard from the deck of a vessel, he will not remain long at the level of his first fall. If he is not rescued he will sink to such a depth as will be out of all comparison with it. He will go lower and lower till his body finds the bottom of the ocean. Man’s first fall from obedience to disobedience was a great fall, but he has not been content with this moral distance between himself and his Maker, he has tried to drag God down with him and thus has brutalised and demonised the divine that was still within him. In more than a material sense he has “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man” (Romans 1:23). This changing of the truth of God into a lie will always take place where there is an absence of right conceptions of God, and the result must always be the moral deterioration which Paul gives as the result in Romans 1:26-32. There is as much relation between “good” or “right” doctrine and good and holy character as there is between good bread and pure water and a healthy body. Good bread will make good muscle and sinew, bad bread will not nourish the human frame. Pure water is indispensable to health, stagnant water will breed a hundred diseases. And mistaken views about God must be fruitful of soul disease. Results prove this to be the case. National and individual history prove the truth of it. “By their fruits ye shall-know them” (Matthew 7:20). As we can foretell what the quality of the harvest will be from the seed sown, so can we tell what has been the character of the seed from that which it brings forth.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 4:2. The common cry is “Who will show us any good?” and every man will lend both ears to a good bargain. The doctrine here delivered is good every way, whether you look to the author, matter, or effect of it.—Trapp.
God’s commandments are not like the commandments of any other, which are directed to the benefit of the commanders: but God’s commandments do only bring good to him that is commanded.… What is there so absurd, as to despise His commands who doth command that He may have matter for rewarding: for God doth not want our obedience, but we do want His commanding. Therefore it is said, “As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, and the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God until he have mercy upon us, that is, until He command us something, and that, thou, O David, callest mercy.—Jermin.
I. In itself. It is most majestic, as containing not trivial and common sentences, but high parables and extraordinary mysteries. It gives the highest direction in the greatest things.
II. It is good to us. Good for profit and pleasure. Good for soul and body (1 Corinthians 15:2; Deuteronomy 28:1). Good for this life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). Good when it pleaseth us (Psalms 119:7). Good when it crosseth us (Isaiah 39:8).—Francis Taylor.
Proverbs 4:3. Noteworthy is the prominence given to the mother’s share in the training of the child. Among the Israelites and the Egyptians alone of the nations of the old world, was the son’s reverence for the mother placed side by side with that which he owed to his father.—Plumptre.
Proverbs 4:4. Training discipline, not foolish indulgence, is the truest evidence of affection to our tender and beloved ones (chap. Proverbs 13:24; with 1 Kings 1:6).—Bridges.
“He taught me.” The prayer of Solomon, at Gibeon, for wisdom, as the principal of God’s gifts, was suggested to him by his father David, just before his death. (See 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Chronicles 29:19).—Wordsworth.
Here Solomon again commands the involuntary, because he has shown the steps to it. We cannot, of all other things in the world, live by a voluntary act, but we can “keep watch over the commandments.” I mean, we can, as it is a voluntary act, if God makes us willing. But we cannot live as a voluntary thing except through some form of anterior obedience.—Miller.
Proverbs 4:8. Exalt or “esteem.”
Proverbs 4:9. Last clause, or “she shall compass thee with a crown of glory.”
Proverbs 4:10. As is all other instances (see Notes on Chap. Proverbs 3:2), Miller translates the promise: “And they shall grow greater to thee through years of life.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 4:5-13
THE ONE THING NEEDFUL
I. Human nature has many needs.
1. There are the needs of the body, which begin upon our entrance into life, and never cease until the day of our death. These are common to all men, and keep every man in an attitude of getting all through his life. It is the demand of these needs—the effort to get what will supply them—that is the motive-power which keeps the world of men in motion.
2. Men’s needs are multiplied in proportion to the greatness of their sphere and their intellectual activity. The needs of a judge upon the bench are more than those of a crossing-sweeper. Both have some wants in common, but the intellectual and social position of the former has multiplied his needs far beyond those of the latter. The needs of a master in a house of business, or of a mistress in a family, are more than those of their servants. They have more claims to meet—more responsible positions to fill. But the aim of each individual man, woman, or child is to supply their natural or acquired—their real or their supposed—wants, whether material, or intellectual, or spiritual.
II. There is one need above all other needs—one thing to be gotten before all other gettings—viz: Wisdom, taking the word to mean godliness. The husbandman finds that the field that has been given him to till needs many things before it will yield him a golden harvest. But there is one thing, among others, that is indispensable, viz: the sunlight. He will plough, and harrow, and sow in vain if this want is not supplied. So all a man’s gettings will fail to bring him a harvest of soul-satisfaction if this primal element be wanting.
III. The blessings which will follow the getting of godliness. They have already been enumerated in chap. Proverbs 3:21-26. See homiletics on that paragraph. On Proverbs 4:9 see homiletics on chap. Proverbs 1:9.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 4:5. We cannot do it directly, but there immediately follow the rules to be observed, “forget not,” etc. It is astonishing how much is made of attention. It is the only voluntary thing, not muscular.—Miller.
For so much a man learns as he remembers. The promise also of salvation is limited to “keeping in memory what we have received” (1 Corinthians 15:2).
1. Because of the excellency of it. Things of high birth are excellent. This wisdom is from above (James 3:17). Things rare are precious. True wisdom is not found in many.
2. Because of the pleasure of it (chap. Proverbs 3:17). No content in the world like that wisdom gives.
3. Because of the profit of it. Every trade will tell you that wisdom thrives, and folly beggars men. So in spiritual things.
4. Because of the necessity of it, which is the strongest argument. Without it die, nay be damned.—Francis Taylor.
Proverbs 4:6. Jerome wrote to a friend, “Beg now for me, who am grey-headed, of the Lord, that I may have Wisdom for my companion, of which it is written, “Love her and she shall keep thee.”
Forsake her not, and thou will love her, for love is bred by continuing together; love her and thou will not forsake her, for love liketh not of parting. The manner of speech seemeth to intimate a union of marriage, and indeed Wisdom is a fit spouse for man’s noble soul.—Jermin.
We turn an eye to Wisdom, and she turns an eye to us. We watch and she watches. In our ungodly state we cannot think of Wisdom that she does not turn and step back to us by common grace. And, if we think so long, and strive so earnestly as that she comes up to us and is full in sight, then each new fondness fascinates her and brings her close. Each wise thing that we do makes us wiser.—Miller.
It is worse with him that leaves good, than with him that never did it (2 Peter 2:21). One goes blindfold to hell and hath less pains there; another, seeing, hath more.—Francis Taylor.
Proverbs 4:7. Make religion thy business, other things do by the bye. As Cæsar, swimming through the waters to escape his enemies, carried his books in his hand above them, but lost his robe.—Trapp.
It can have no place if it has not the first place. If it be anything it will be everything.—Bridges.
The mistake of the principal thing is that which maketh the principal disorder in man’s heart.… But as that is light which showeth the light unto us, so that is the principal thing which showeth the principal thing unto us, even wisdom alone.—Jermin.
I. What we are to acquire. Both divine and human learning, which differ as means do from the end. Were there no divine learning, human learning would lose great part of its value: limited to the present life, it must terminate on the confines of the grave. And had we no human learning, now that the days of inspiration have passed, we should not be able to attain that which is divine. II. How we are to acquire it. We must be taught by those who were in the world before us. Weeds and thistles only will be the spontaneous produce if the ground is not broken up and good seed sown. III. Why we are to acquire it. The pleasures of wisdom exceed all others—in kind, degree, and duration.—Bishop Horne.
The world’s maxim, on the contrary, is—money is the principal thing; therefore get money; and with all thy getting, get more.—Fausset.
Amidst all thy other acquisitions acquire this, without which all others will be useless and even hurtful.—Menochius.
“With,” rather “by means of” (see “Critical Notes”). We are to turn all our gettings into the channel of more grace. We are to use all our properties for growing wiser. We are to grind up all our corn into the bread of spiritual nourishment.—Miller.
Venture all for wisdom rather than miss it.
1. What we lose is transitory, what we get is durable. A fee-simple is better than a leaf.
2. What we lose is hollow and empty, what we get is full and substantial. A sound timber tree is better than one hollow within, though the latter make a bigger show.
3. What we lose is vain, what we get is profitable. A piece of gold is better than a counter.
4. What we lose is often matter of danger, what we get is matter of safety and security.—Francis Taylor.
Proverbs 4:8. On this recommendation of religion it is the more necessary to fix our attention because it is often refused to it by men of the world. Their notions of honour are apt to run in a very different channel.… A distinction must be made between fame and honour. The former is a loud and noisy applause; the latter a more silent and internal homage. Fame floats on the breath of the multitude; honour rests on the judgment of the thinking. Fame may give praise while it withholds esteem; true honour implies esteem mingled with respect. The one regards particular distinguished talents; the other looks up to the whole character. It follows, therefore, that in order to discern where man’s true honour lies, we must look at the whole of what forms a man. A mind superior to fear, to selfish interest, and corruption; governed by this principle of uniform rectitude, the same in prosperity as in adversity, such is the mind which forms the distinction and eminence of men. And such a character is formed solely by the influence of true religion. II. The honour which man acquires by religion and virtue is independent and complete. It is independent of anything foreign or external. Wherever fortune is concerned it is the rank which commands our deference. Where some shining quality attracts admiration, it is only to a part of the character that we pay homage. But with goodness, it is the whole man whom we respect. III. This honour is divine and immortal. It is honour not only in the sight of man, but of God, whose judgment is the standard of truth and right. It enters with man into a future state; and continues to brighten through eternal ages.—Blair.
Not only “get,” “keep,” and “love” her, but also “exalt her.” We are apt to think less of those things which we have, however precious, after the novelty has worn off. Beware of this feeling in religion. Religion richly repays in kind all that we can do to “embrace” her. She exalts them who exalt her (Psalms 30:1), and gives them fresh reason for exalting her (Psalms 37:34).—Fausset.
Proverbs 4:9. She is the diadem which bindeth up the shattered thoughts of man’s understanding: she it is which covereth and succoureth the broken cracks of man’s invention: she it is which delivereth the authority of sovereignty to the head, and maketh the head to be the head, in bearing rule and commanding the inferior affections and lusts of the heart and other members.—Jermin.
Crowns were anciently given to many sorts of persons as tokens of general favour and esteem.
1. To wise men and learned; to those who excelled in the arts and sciences. Godly-wise men deserve them much better.
2. To men famous for justice and other moral virtues; to good lawmakers and judges. Godly-wise men excel in theological virtues, which are far more excellent.
3. To conquerors. A wise man is a conqueror over his passions and affections, which make other men, and great ones too, very slaves.
4. To bridegrooms when they were married. A wise man is married to Wisdom, the fairest bride in the world.
5. To kings on their coronation day. So shall godly men be crowned when they die. They know how to rule their own souls here, and to direct others, and to get an eternal crown in Heaven. A beggar being once asked what he was, answered: “I am a king!” “Where is thy kingdom?” “It is in my soul. I can so rule my external and internal senses that all the faculties of my soul are subject to me.” And who doubts that this kingdom is better than all the kingdoms of the world?—Francis Taylor.
Proverbs 4:11. He may boldly call to be heard who himself doth what he teacheth. Christ placeth doing before teaching (Matthew 8:19), for good doing leading the way, though teaching doth not follow, yet good works can, as clear as the light, teach those that look upon us. Paul saith, “We have received grace and apostleship to the obedience of faith; one would have thought he should have said rather to the government and direction of faith, but he saith, obedience, because examples do direct and govern better than words.—Jermin.
The two branches which constitute the sum of parental tuition—instruction and direction—teaching truth and guiding to duty. The one part relates to knowledge, the other to practice. In all rightly conducted education, the two should never be disjoined. To teach duty without truth is to teach action without motive—virtue without its principle. To teach truth without duty is to teach motive without the practice to which it should lead. They are both partial, and, if kept asunder, both worthless.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 4:12. Having a good mixture of zeal and knowledge; so that thy zeal doth quicken thy knowledge, and thy knowledge guide thy zeal.—Trapp.
The way of wisdom is indeed narrow, but in a narrow way there may be large steps; for though our feet may be straightened from going aside, yet they are not straightened from going on apace.—Jermin.
As “goest” refers to the ordinary course, so “runnest” refers to extraordinary undertakings, wherein the believer has to put forth more than common energy.—Fausset.
The word straightened seems to express the case of one in difficulty and perplexity—contradictory impulses and obstacles pressing and hindering him on every side, perpetually producing embarrassment and apprehension—hedging up the way, and hemming us in, and destroying the freedom and comfort of advancement. Such is the case of a man who walks according to a worldly and carnal policy. He is ever at a loss. As circumstances are ever shifting, he is ever shifting his principles and plans to suit them. But the “wisdom from above” inspires a simplicity and a unity of principle by which a vast amount of this painful and agitating perplexity is taken away.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 4:13. Often a ship’s crew at sea are obliged suddenly to betake themselves to their boats, and abandon the sinking ship. Such a case was recently reported of an American whale-ship in the South Seas. The huge leviathan of the deep, wounded by the art of man, ran out the distance of a mile by way of getting a run-race, and thence came on with incredible velocity against the devoted ship. She began to fill.… the word was given. All hands went to work, and soon all the seaworthy boats were loaded to the gunwale with the prime necessaries of life. The deck was now nearly level with the water, and the boats shoved off for safety. After they had pulled a hundred yards away, two resolute men leaped from one of the boats into the sea, and made towards the ship. They disappear down a hatchway. In a minute they emerge again, bearing something in their hands. As they leap into the water the ship goes down; the men are separated from each other and their burden in the whirlpool that gathers over the sinking hull. They do not seem to consult their own safety. They remain in that dangerous eddy until they grasp again the object which they had carried over the ship’s side. Holding it fast, they are seen at length bearing away to their comrades in the boat. What do these strong swimmers carry, for they seem to value it more than life? It is the compass! It had been left behind, and was remembered almost too late. Now they have taken fast hold of it, and will not let it go. Whatever they lose, they will at all hazards keep it, for “it is their life.” When shall we see souls, shipwrecked on the sea of time, take and keep such hold of the truth as it is in Jesus?—Arnot.
Fasten and do not let slack. One rough grapple is not enough. Wisdom insidiously glides away if we give time to the arch deceiver. We are like a child trying to wake: he grasps the apple that one gives, but slackens as drowsiness creeps back.—Miller.
I. Because many thieves lie in the way to rob us of what wisdom teaches.
1. The devil steals away the seed of the word (Matthew 13:9).
2. Wicked men also, by seducing us. Sometimes by persecuting us to make us forsake the truth (Matthew 13:21).
3. The world with its cares and profits seeks to take this treasure from us (Matthew 13:22). The flesh presents many pleasures to us which drown our wits.
II. Because we may lose wisdom ourselves by negligence.—F. Taylor.
Proverbs 4:14. Go not. The Heb. is literally “to go straightforward;” also, “to pronounce happy.”
Proverbs 4:15. Avoid, “Let it go,” reject it.” Turn from it, i.e., even if thou hast entered, turn back.
Proverbs 4:16. Miller here reads: “For the mere reason that they sleep not, rest assured they do mischief; and that their sleep is stolen, rest assured they occasion stumbling:” and understands it to mean that the more sleepless the industrious impenitent, the faster he is carrying everything to eternal ruin. But all other commentators of importance read as in the English version.
Proverbs 4:18. Shining light, Lit. “the light of dawn that grows and brightens even to the establishment of the day.”
Proverbs 4:19. Darkness, “thick darkness,” the gloom of midnight.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 4:14-19
CONTRASTED PATHS AND OPPOSITE CHARACTERS
I. The just man’s path.
1. It is a pre-ordained one. The path which the sun takes through the heavens, the path in which our earth encircles the sun, are the paths which God has pre-ordained for them. They are the only paths which they could take and preserve the harmony of the system to which they belong. They are the orbits which are exactly adapted to the fulfilment of the end for which God created them. So the path—the manner of life—of the godly man is the path in which God intended man to walk when He created him. He called him into being in order that he might “walk before Him and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1). “The highway of holiness” is the God-ordained path of man, the old way which was trodden by His creatures for ages before men had any existence.
2. It is a blessing-dispensing path. The sun, by keeping God’s pre-ordained path, is a blessing to the world. Its rays possess a quickening power which developes the hidden life of the plant, and so clothes the earth with beauty and fruitfulness. Without its heat and light our globe would be a great Sahara—a vast wilderness of black barrenness. It likewise brings into operation a sense in man which would otherwise be dormant. The light of the body is the eye, but where would sight be without sun? Creatures who have lived for years in darkness appear to lose the power of sight, even if light shines upon their eye-balls. The constant contact of the eye with light keeps alive the power of vision. So with the just man’s path. Without the godly this world would be a moral wilderness. All the beauty of goodness there is in it comes from the life of the children of wisdom. “They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:7). And He keeps alive the inner eye of man—the conscience. It, too, needs external light to play upon it to keep it alive. And the holy walk of the godly does this for the ungodly, it prevents the conscience from being utterly stifled by sin.
3. It is a progessive path. It shines more and more. The light of dawn has glories all its own, but it is not strong enough to do the work of the noon-day rays, its heat is not able to penetrate beneath the surface of the earth and wake up the life of the seed-corn hidden there; its brightness touches the mountain-tops, but does not scatter the shadows in the valleys. But when the sun reaches its meridian “there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” So with the children of wisdom. When they first set out upon their journey their godliness is not so manifest to others, nor does it yield so much comfort to themselves as when they have trodden the path for years. But it must, from a necessity of nature, go on unto perfection. “Just men will be made perfect” (Hebrews 12:3). “They go from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:7). They come “to the perfect day.”
II. The wicked man’s way. It is in every point the converse of that which has just been sketched.
1. It is his own way (chap. Proverbs 1:31): not God’s way, not the way in which he was destined to walk. It is an old way (Job 22:15), but not the oldest way; it is a path cast up by the will of man and pre-Adamite sinners.
2. It is a way of darkness, because it is a way of blindness. Blindness puts a man in the dark, and, being in the dark, he has only the experience that springs from darkness. Wickedness puts out the eyes of the soul, and, like a blind Samson, it sits in darkness and the shadow of death. A state of blindness is a state of ignorance. A blind man cannot avoid objects that come in his way, and when he falls in consequence, he knows not the object that caused him to fall. So the wise man here describes the ungodly as one “who knows not at what he stumbles” (Proverbs 4:19). He has no realisation of the real character of his tempters, no insight into the sinfulness of sin; the lack of a guiding principle turns his walk into a series of stumblings. It follows of necessity that such a path is one of danger. It is more dangerous to walk in the night than in the day. The footpad or the highwayman can hide himself from our view in the darkness, and come upon us unawares. We may fall over the precipice at night that we could easily avoid in the day. So is it in a course of sin. A man who shuts his eyes to the light within him, and rejects the light which is to “lighten every man” (John 1:9), will, unawares, be overtaken by retribution, and fall into depths of remorse upon which he little counts.
3. Like the path of the just, it is a progressive path. No man stands still in it. The darkness thickens as the blindness increases, and the blindness grows the longer men refuse to “come to the light” (John 3:20). Men do not all at once come to the height or descend to the depth of iniquity described in Proverbs 4:16, when, unless they have done some iniquitous act, they feel that they have lost a day. The merchant may feel he has lost a day when he has failed to make a good bargain; the scholar feels it when he has not added to his stock of knowledge; the heathen emperor reckoned a day lost when he had not benefited some one; but for a man not to sleep except he has done a mischief, surely expresses as “perfect a night” as it is possible for human nature to attain to. Surely he then proves himself to be a child of him whose business it is to “go about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
4. It is a path which is destructive to others. As the good man, by walking in God’s path, blesses his fellow-creatures as well as himself, so the wicked man, in his path of darkness, is a curse to others as well as himself. The force of evil example alone is pernicious to all who surround him, but although he may begin in this negative way, he soon advances to positive acts of sin, until he lives upon the misery of others. It becomes his meat and drink to drag others to destruction with him, or, failing that, to do them as much injury as he can (Proverbs 4:16-17).
III. The means of escape from this path of darkness and ruin. “Enter it not,” and, to make sure of not entering it, give it a wide berth—“pass not by it, turn away” (Proverbs 4:14-15). When we see those whom we love in danger, we multiply words of warning, and are not careful to avoid repeating words which may have little or no difference in their meaning. So Solomon’s anxiety shows itself here in the repetition of his exhortations. But there is some gradation observed in them.
1. We are not to enter the paths, not even to set one foot upon the forbidden way. Men may be tempted to venture a step or two just to take a glance, and intend to turn back as soon as they have done so, but it is enchanted ground, and it is more than likely if they are once upon the track they will go further than they at first intended. But if they do not enter it, they cannot walk in it.
2. If you have already entered, do not persevere another moment, turn from it at once. If the captain of a ship becomes all at once aware that he is steering his vessel upon the rocks, he puts about at once. The next best thing to not going wrong at all is to turn back—in Bible language, to repent, to put the face in the opposite direction, to turn the whole man back to the opposite goal.
3. In order to escape the danger of entering at all, or of re-entrance after having once forsaken it, avoid its very neighbourhood, pass not by it, go not in the way of temptation. If a youth has been induced to gamble, and has resolved to give up the habit, let him not go near the gambling house—let him give up all intercourse with gamblers; if he has been once under the fatal influence of strong drink, he must taste it no more—not even “look upon the wine when it is red” (ch. Proverbs 23:31). He must “flee youthful lusts,” and the most certain method of doing this is to strike out another course—to “follow after righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11-12), to get well into the way of wisdom, to know from experience the blessedness of the path of the just.” Men must have a “way” in life, there is no neutral ground; or if some men seem for a time to be living in the border-land, a time will come when they must declare for one side or the other.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 4:14. We must all “enter” somewhere. We are all travelling. We all necessarily follow something. Don’t take the path of the wicked for it. That is the doctrine.—Miller.
Sin is like a whirlpool. He who once ventures within the circle of its eddying waters in the self-sufficient assurance that he may go a certain length, and then turn at his pleasure and stem the current back, may feel the fancied strength of the sinews of his moral resolution but weakness in the moment of need, and may—nay, almost certainly will—be borne on further and further, till, all power of resistance failing, he is carried round and round with increasing celerity, and sucked into the central gulf of irrecoverable perdition.—Wardlaw.
Jortin, in his remarks upon Ecclesiastical History, relates the story of a colloquy between a Father of the second century and an evil spirit in a Christian, whom he sought to expel. Upon inquiring how he dared be so impudent as to enter a Christian, the evil spirit replied, “I went not to church after him, but he came to the playhouse after me, and, finding him upon my own ground, I sought to secure him for myself.” Whatever becomes of the story, the moral of it deserves attention.—Leifchild.
We pray to be kept from temptation, and our practice ought not to contradict our prayers; otherwise, it is evident that we mock God by asking from Him what we do not wish to have.—Lawson.
Proverbs 4:15. This triple gradation of Solomon showeth, with a great emphasis, how necessary it is to flee from all appearance of sin.… Entireness (friendship) with wicked consorts is one of the strongest chains of hell, and binds me to a participation of both sin and punishment.—Brooks.
Come not near.
1. Because our corruption is so great that, if we come near it, we will both smell it with delight and smell of it.
2. Because wicked men stand upon the edge of their way to draw others into it, as thieves watch for their prey.
3. We may stumble into that way ourselves, if we be not pulled into it by others. He that walks on the brink of a river may fall in. There is but a narrow bridge between lawful and unlawful. And that which is lawful to-day may, by a circumstance, be made unlawful to-morrow.—Francis Taylor.
It would not be complaisance, but cowardice—it would be a sinful softness which allowed affinity in taste to imperil your faith or your virtue. It would be the same sort of courtesy which, in the equatorial forest, for the sake of its beautiful leaf, lets the liana, with its strangling arms, run up the plaintain or orange, and pays the forfeit in blasted boughs and total ruin. It would be the same sort of courtesy which, for fear of appearing rude or inhospitable, took into dock the infected vessel, or welcomed, not as a patient, but a guest, the plague-stricken stranger.—Jas. Hamilton.
Proverbs 4:16-17. The devil, their taskmaster, will not allow them time to sleep, which is very hard bondage.—Trapp.
The character of the wicked is here drawn in their father’s image—first, sinners; then tempters.… Judas with his midnight torches (John 18:3); the early morning assembly of the Jewish rulers (Luke 22:66); the frenzied vow of the enemies of Paul (Acts 23:12); and many a plot in after ages against the Church—all vividly pourtray this unwearied wickedness.—Bridges.
The fearful stage of debasement when the tendency to sin is like the craving for stimulants, as a condition without which there can be no repose.—Plumptre.
The trouble of others is the rest of the wicked.—Jermin.
Just as bread forms the flesh, and makes it grow, according as it is eaten, so wickedness is the food of the spirit. “My meat is,” says Christ, “to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). “Thy words were found, and I did eat them” (Jeremiah 15:16). So in chap. Proverbs 1:31, “Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way”—the meaning being, that a man’s way, spiritually considered, is all that forms him. He feeds upon it. If it is righteous, it nourishes him in life. If it is wicked, it nourishes him in death. He feeds on food of wickedness, and grows exactly in proportion as he sins. His very life is in its very self a deadly self-banqueting.—Miller.
They sin, not of frailty, but of malice; not by occasion, as it were, but by an insatiable desire of committing wickedness.—Muffet.
Proverbs 4:18. He sets forth betime in the morning and travels to meet the day.
The sun is an emblem, not of the just, but of the Justifier. Christ alone is the light of the world, Christians are the enlightened. The just are those whom the Sun of Righteousness shines upon.… When any portion of the earth’s surface begins to experience a dawn diminishing its darkness, it is because that portion is gradually turning round towards the sun, the centre of light fixed in the heavens. When any part of the earth lies away from the sun, and in proportion to the measure of its aversion, it is dark and cold, in proportion as it turns to him again its atmosphere grows clearer, until in its gradual progress it comes in sight of the sun, and its day is perfect then. So is the path of the just. Day is not perfect here in the believer’s heart.… but the machinery of the everlasting covenant is meantime going softly and silently as the motion of the spheres; and they that are Christ’s here, whatever clouds dim their present prospect, are wearing every moment farther from the night, and nearer to the day.—Arnot.
There is a day to be which shall be a day indeed, without cloud, without night, without morning, without evening. Unto this day leadeth the path of the righteous, and which going on, shineth more and more, until at last, when it seemeth to go out, it shall be received into that light which never goeth out.—Jermin.
Light is emblematical of knowledge, holiness, and joy. The three bear invariable proportion to each other—holiness springing from knowledge, and joy from both.… “The entrance of God’s word gives light.” But the entrance of this light into the mind is often, like the early dawn, feeble, glimmering, uncertain.… But it does not abide so.… He who is enlightened from above is eager for more of the blessed light. He thirsts for knowledge, and is on the alert to obtain it.… With growth in knowledge there is growth in holiness. At the first dawn of spiritual light some faint desires are felt after God and sanctity. These progressively increase, and they show their influence in the increase of practical godliness … And joy is the natural attendant of spiritual illumination and inward sanctity. It, too, is progressive. Like the sun in every stage of his diurnal course, it may be overcast by occasional clouds. But as the sun appears the brighter on his emerging from the cloudy veil, so the trials of the just serve to give lustre to their virtues.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 4:19. It is interesting to note the resemblance between these words and those of our Lord (John 11:10; John 12:35).—Plumptre.
Strange enough! it is a confessed darkness. There is a sort of common light that tells a man that impenitence is darkness. And yet it does not teach him better. Like mere physical light at times, some chemical ray is absent. The darkness that remains is a darkness that may be felt. It constitutes our eternal chains (2 Peter 2:4); it binds a man on the car of ruin. And like a Christian, who, in his partial light, may fail to know what is blessing him, so the sinner in his absolute darkness, takes industry for virtue, and family love for a wholesome righteousness; and does not know the incidents of life that are stumbling blocks to eternal ruin.—Miller.
Sinners are in such darkness that they are insensible to the objects that are leading them to ruin, thus they stumble—
1. At the great deceiver.
2. At one another.
3. At Divine Providence.
4. At their common employments.
5. At the nature and tendency of their religious performances.
6. At the preaching they hear.
7. At the blindness of their hearts.—Emmons, from Lange’s Commentary.
Proverbs 4:22. Health, or “healing.”
Proverbs 4:23. “Above all other watching, keep thy heart,” some read: “Keep thy heart with all (kinds of) keeping.” Issues—“currents,” “outgoings.”
Proverbs 4:24. Froward mouth, Lit., “distortion,” “crookedness.”
Proverbs 4:26. Ponder, “make level, or straight.”
NOTE ON Proverbs 4:20.—There is an aspect of sameness in these beginnings. But they are beginnings. One of the characteristics of Scripture is a division, like Childe Harold into cantos, or separate sonnets. They are most conspicuous in the prophet Isaiah; and, like grapes upon a bunch, each wrapped in its individual rind, but all clustered on a common stem. If we ventured a conjecture, it would be that this suited the Israelitish worship. The synagogue would take one of these cantos and use it for the day. They were of irregular length, but that would allow variety. They have some repetitions, but so have missals and breviaries, that allow of choice on different occasions. There was an aim to provide most of the points for recitation on each occasion. What for one reading would seem very same, for many readings would seem wonderfully diversified.—Miller.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 4:20-27
THE PATH OF SAFETY
For Homiletics on Proverbs 4:20-22, see chap. Proverbs 2:1-8, etc.
I. A man’s most precious and real possession. “Thy heart.” The heart here, and in other parts of Holy Scripture, is that part of a man for which the Bible exists, that in man to which the revelation of God appeals, that which places a great gulf between him and all other creatures in the world, that which links him to the angels of God, that which entails upon him responsibilities and endows him with capabilities which will last throughout all the ages to come. It is that spiritual nature which our Lord calls a man’s “own soul” (Matthew 16:26), which Paul speaks of as the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
II. The need of “keeping,” or “guarding” the heart. There are elements of evil as well as good in it. In any kingdom where there are bad subjects as well as good, there must be a watch kept over those out of whom submission to law is not to be got voluntarily. They must be guarded lest they get the upper hand and overpower and tyrannise over the peace-loving obedient citizens. In every human body there is some organ which is more prone to disease than others. While some are strong and vigorous, others are more or less delicate; therefore a man needs to exercise care over his body. So in the heart of the child of wisdom there is an evil element as well as a good one. “I see another law in my members,” says Paul, “warring against the law of my mind” (Romans 7:23). Every godly man has a tendency to moral weakness, some opening in his spiritual armour, some weak part in his moral constitution. Therefore it behoves him to keep guard over, to watch vigilantly, the lawless, rebellious, or diseased elements within him, lest sin have dominion, if only for a time, where grace ought to rule.
III. The importance of keeping the heart. “Out of it are the issues of life.” The physical heart of man is well defended by nature, because it is the spring of our bodily life. From it, as from a well, issues life-blood, which flows into every part of the body, and without which a man ceases to live. The strong ribs and the inner coverings of the heart which so well defend it show the necessity there is that it should be free to do its work without let or hindrance. “A sound heart is the life of the flesh,” says Solomon (chap. Proverbs 14:30). If the heart is healthy, the benefit is felt to the extremities of the body; if it is diseased, the whole physical frame suffers. Out of it are the issues of animal life. A man who has charge of a well of water is bound to keep it covered and secured against the entrance of anything that might poison or even defile it. Upon its safe keeping depends, perhaps, not only the health of himself and his household, but that of an entire district. It is a centre of health if pure, of disease if impure. So upon the condition of the inner man depends the character of the outward life. It is a well-spring of life in the sense that it determines the character of the life. The streams which issue from it are the actions of man, actions repeated are habits, and habits form character; and character influences other lives. What a man is blesses or curses those around him, and entails blessing or curse upon generations to come. A good man in a neighbourhood is like a well of living water, he diffuses and preserves moral health all around him.
IV. The way to keep the heart.—The vigilance of a sentinel is manifested by his notice of the distant motion of the grass under cover of which the enemy is creeping towards the citadel. He is ever on the look-out for the distant enemy. The watchful general notes the first symptoms of mutiny in the army, and treads out the spark before it becomes a flame. So the watchful heart-keeper takes notice of the first movement of rebels within. The thoughts take their rise in the soul under the eye of none but God and the keeper, and he must be on the alert at the first motion. And as when the sentinel sees the first movement of the enemy he never thinks of advancing to fight him alone, but communicates with one who has power to overthrow him, so when a man becomes aware of the first motion of evil in his heart, God must receive the information—He must be called upon to exercise His power to disperse or take prisoners the thoughts before they can become actions. Keeping of the heart includes a guarding of every inlet of temptation, a watchfulness over the senses, and any organ of the outward man which might lead us into temptation. Hence Solomon exhorts his son to guard his eyes and his feet. It has been asserted by some that there is nothing in the mind that has not first been in the senses; and though this is a disputed point, we are quite sure that there is much in the heart, both of good and evil, which entered by those gates. There are thoughts there which have been kindled by what we have seen, as Achan’s covetous desires were created by the sight of the goodly spoils of Jericho. The eye of David was the entrance-gate of the thought which ended in adultery and murder. And the feet may lead us in forbidden paths—into the way of temptation—into the society of those whose words, finding entrance by the ear, may sow seeds of impurity within.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 4:20. Still he calls for attention. It fares with many of us as with little children, who, though saying their lessons, must needs look off to see the feather that flies by them.—Trapp.
The former verse having spoken of hearing God’s Word, this speaketh of reading it. For the beginning of obedience is to be willing to know what is commanded, and it is a part of performance to have learned what is to be performed.… Let God’s Word be in our heart, it will be in the midst of it. For the heart hath no outside, all is the midst there: the heart hath no outward show, all there is inward truth.—Jermin.
Proverbs 4:21. The terms of this verse may be compared, for illustration, with those of Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 6:8 : “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” Amongst the Jews there was a sad propensity to take the latter injunction literally and externally. Hypocrites and formalists satisfied themselves with having little scraps of the law written on parchment, and worn as frontlets on the forehead. But this was a delusion. The laws of God are never rightly “before the eyes” unless they are “in the heart.” The meaning of the former clause of the verse is, that the commandments of God should be kept constantly in view as the guides of the whole conduct. And this will be the case when they are kept “in the midst of the heart.”—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 4:22. Some medicines are good for one part of the body, some for another. This is good for all the body, and all the soul.—Cartwright.
Proverbs 4:23. That thou mayest keep thy heart sincere, to use the similitude of a castle, for so the heart is,—
1. Repair and fortify it diligently. Weak walls are soon broken down. Breaches give occasion for an enemy to enter. Thou wilt find something to mend every day in the understanding, or conscience, or memory, or will, or affections, if not in all of them. Victual this fort, else it cannot hold out against a siege. Feed it with good meditations from the creatures, and out of the Scriptures. Starved soldiers cannot defend a fort.
3. Set up a regiment in thy soul. No fort can be kept without government; soldiers, else, will rebel and betray the fort. Commit that charge to a well-informed conscience; submit all thoughts, and words, and deeds to it.
4. Get arms in it to keep out enemies; to wit, God’s prohibitions and threats in His Word. This is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).—Francis Taylor.
The man is as his heart is. The heart is the spring and fount of all natural and spiritual actions, it is the primum mobile, the great wheel that sets all other wheels agoing; it is the great monarch in the isle of man, therefore, keep it with all custody and caution, or else bid farewell to all true joy, peace, and comfort. When the heart stands right with Christ He will pardon much and pass by much.… Therefore we should keep our hearts as under lock and key, that they may be always at hand when the Lord shall call for them.… The word heart is here put comprehensively for the whole soul, with all its powers, noble faculties, and endowments, together with their several operations, all which are to be watched over.… It is a duty incumbent upon every Christian to keep his own heart. Thou mayest make another thy park-keeper, thy housekeeper, thy shopkeeper, thy cashkeeper, but thou must be thy own heartkeeper. “With all diligence.” Some understand this of all kind of watchfulness.
1. As men keep a prison. How vigilant are they in looking after their prisoners.
2. As they keep a besieged garrison, or castle, in time of war. A gracious heart is Christ’s fort-royal. Against this fort Satan will employ his utmost art, therefore it must have a strong guard.
3. As the Levites kept the sanctuary of God and all the holy things committed to their charge (Ezekiel 44:8-15). Our hearts are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and therefore we should keep a guard about them, that nothing may pass in or out that may be displeasing, grieving, or provoking to Him.
4. As a man keeps his life. The same word (shamar) is used in Job 10:0. in reference to life. With what care, what diligence, do men labour to preserve their natural lives.
5. As men keep their treasures. There are few men who know how to value their hearts as they should. It is that pearl of price for which a man should lay down his all.
6. As spruce men and women do their fine clothes. They won’t endure a spot upon them. Let not others be more careful to keep their outsides clean, than you are to keep your insides clean.—Brooks.
The fountains and wells of the East were watched over with special care. A stone was rolled to the mouth of the well, so that “a spring shut up, a fountain sealed,” became the type of all that is most jealously guarded (Song Song of Solomon 4:12). So it is here. The heart is such a fountain—out of it flow “the issues of life.” Shall we let the stream be tainted at the fountain head?—Plumptre.
Keep the heart.
1. Because it falls directly under the inspection of God. Man can judge only by what is external, but “I, the Lord, search the heart.”
2. Because of the influence the heart has upon the life. He that is concerned about making the tree good will probably make the fruit so.
3. Care in keeping the heart is greatly to be regarded for itself. Is there nothing pleasant, nothing honourable in being masters at home—in being possessors of our own spirits? Is it nothing that the peace of the kingdom is broken, even though the constitution of it be not overthrown?—Doddridge.
A heart purified by the grace of God, and firmly rooted in truth as its ground, is the source and common fountain for the successful development of all the main activities and functions of human life, those belonging to the sphere of sense, as well as to the psychical and spiritual realms, and this must more and more manifest itself as such a centre of the personality, sending forth light and life.—Lange’s Commentary.
Though to keep the heart be God’s work, it is man’s agency. Our efforts are his instrumentality.—Bridges.
All vital principles are lodged there, and only such as are good and holy will give you pleasure. The exercises of religion will be pleasing when they are natural, and flow easily out of their own fountain.—John Howe.
Although Solomon repeats himself, he always advances upon the thought. There is always some characteristic novelty; and that novelty is the hinge of the purpose, and imbeds its meaning in the life of the passage. Here it is the function of the heart. It circulates life. Give it good blood, and it will throw off disease; give it bad blood, and it will produce disease. Give it health enough, and it will throw off incipient mortification; give it no health, and it will produce mortification. Solomon weaves this into experimental godliness.… Guard the great central guard-post, and no out-station will be cut off. If it be, for a time, the heart will win it again.—Miller.
Proverbs 4:24. While we speak, we should never forget that God is one of the listeners.… Take the principle of Hagar’s simple and sublime confession, accommodated in thought to the case in hand, “Thou, God, hearest me.” If our words were all poured through that strainer, how much purer and fewer they would be.—Arnot.
It is true that vigilance over the heart is vigilance over the tongue, inasmuch as out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.… There is no surer index of the state of the “inner man.” As is the conversation, so is the heart.—Wardlaw.
While a fire is confined to one man’s house, even if it burns that house to its foundation, all other dwellings are unharmed; but when it lays hold of surrounding buildings, all the city is endangered. When an evil thought is confined to a man’s own spirit, kept within the limits of thinking or desiring, though it may char his own soul with the blackness of perdition, the evil ends with himself. But when he allows his thought to become words, he kindles a fire outside himself which may go on burning even after he has forgotten it himself.
Proverbs 4:25. Let them be fixed upon right objects … Be well skilled in Moses’ optics (Hebrews 11:27). Do as mariners do that have their eye on the star, their hand on the stern. A man may not look intently upon that he may not love.—Trapp.
Like one ploughing, who must not look back.—Cartwright.
Had Eve done so she would have looked at the command of God, not at the forbidden tree. Had Lot’s wife looked straight before her instead of behind her, she would, like her husband, have been a monument of mercy.… In asking the way to Zion, be sure that your faces are thitherward (Jeremiah 1:5). The pleasures of sin and the seductions of the world do not lie in the road. They belong to the bye-paths. They would not, therefore, meet the eye looking right on.—Bridges.
Proverbs 4:26. Lift not up one foot till you find firm footing for another, as those in Psalms 35:6. The way of this world is like the vale of Siddim, slimy and slippery.—Trapp.
The habit of calm and serious thinking makes the difference between one man and another.—Dr. Abercrombie.
The feet of the soul are generally understood to be the affections. And surely we have need to ponder the path of them before we give way to them. St. Bernard maketh the two feet to be nature and custom, for, indeed, by them we are much carried, and great need we have to ponder the path of them, so that they do not lead us amiss.—Jermin.
The best time to ponder any path is not at the end, not even in the middle, but at the beginning of it.—Arnot.
Proverbs 4:27. It is as if the royal way was hemmed in by the sea, and a fall over either side were danger of drowning. Some are too greedy; others too ascetic. Some are too bold; others too diffident. Some neglect the one Mediator; others seek more mediators than one. Some flee the cross; others make one. Some tamper with Popery; others, from dread of it, hazard the loss of valuable truth.—Cartwright.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19