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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 20

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 9

Proverbs 20:9

This is a Gospel question before the time of the Gospel. All the great conditions of the human mind you find as distinctly in the Old Testament as in the New; all the questions that sharpen themselves into fierce agonies are in the nature of man, and part of his constitution. The inquiry comes to each of us; if any man can answer the question in the affirmative let him do so.

I. The pure man ought to be lifted above fear; the clean soul ought to have a peculiar, a shadowless joy. Have you that gladness? Then why those nightmares of the soul, why those sudden fears, why those peculiar distresses, why those doubts and scepticisms and questionings, why a thousand indications of unrest and tumult? This ought to suggest that you have not completed the task which you suppose yourself to have accomplished in the heart.

II. There is a tremendous responsibility in returning an affirmative answer to the inquiry of the text. If a man were to say, "Yes, I have made my heart clean and am pure from my sin," he would (1) contradict the whole testimony of Scripture; (2) supersede the work of Christ; (3) withdraw himself from all the cleansing, purifying agencies which constitute the redeeming ministry of the universe. There is no heaven along the line of self-hope; there is no pardon in the direction of self-trust.

Parker, Fountain, August 1st, 1878.

References: Proverbs 20:9 . H. Hayman, Rugby Sermons, p. 50. Proverbs 20:10-14 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. ii., p. 338.

Verse 11

Proverbs 20:11

I. The actions of children become, in process of time, their own doings. Children move before they act, and they live as mere animals before they act spiritually and morally. But in process of time the child acts. All its movements become conduct, the result of a determination to behave itself in a particular way. This is what is meant by "his doings."

II. When the actions of children become their doings, the children are recognised as accountable. (1) God recognises the child as the author of its own actions; He sees the doings of the child spring from a motive and principle within. (2) The god of evil knows, by the doings of children, with whom and with what he has to do. (3) The angelic inhabitants of heaven recognise children in their ministrations. (4) Children are recognised as accountable by their fellow human beings.

III. From these facts we draw the following inferences: (1) If a child be known by his doings, the evils of sin are not escaped by the childhood of the sinner. (2) If a child be known by his doings, he is, as a child, exerting influence for good or for evil. (3) If a child be known by his doings, all the differences of human character are not traceable to education. (4) If a child be known by his doings, the character of the future man is often indicated by the character of the present child. (5) If a child be known by his doings, God does not treat a generation of children en masse, but individually. (6) If a child be known by his doings, one test of character is universally applied by the Judge of all.

S. Martin, Rain Upon the Mown Grass, p. 460.

Reference: Proverbs 20:11 . New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 115.

Verse 12

Proverbs 20:12

I. How the eye tells the brain of the picture which is drawn upon the back of the eye; how the brain calls up that picture when it likes these are two mysteries beyond all man's wisdom to explain. These are two proofs of the wisdom and the power of God which ought to sink deeper into our hearts than all signs and wonders; greater proofs of God's power and wisdom than if yon fir-trees burst into flame of themselves, or yon ground opened and a fountain of water sprang out. The commonest things are as wonderful, more wonderful, than the uncommon; and yet people will hanker after the uncommon, as if they belonged to God more immediately than the commonest matters. That is not faith, to see God only in what is strange and rare; but this is faith, to see God in what is most common and simple; to know God's greatness, not so much from disorder as from order; not so much from those strange sights in which God seems (but only seems) to break His laws, as from those common ones in which He fulfils His laws.

II. When a man sees that, there will arise within his soul a clear light, and an awful joy, and an abiding peace, and a sure hope, and a faith as of a little child. Then will that man crave no more for signs and wonders; but all his cry will be to the Lord of order, to make him orderly; to the Lord of law, to make him loyal; to the Lord in whom is nothing arbitrary, to take out of him all that is unreasonable and self-willed; and make him content, like his Master Christ before him, to do the will of his Father in heaven, who has sent him into this noble world.

C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 224.

References: Proverbs 20:12 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 2nd series, p. 175.Proverbs 20:14 . W. Baird, The Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 13; T. Binney, King's Weighhouse Chapel Sermons, 1st series, p. 384; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 2nd series, p. 187. Proverbs 20:15-21 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. ii., p. 350.

Verse 17

Proverbs 20:17

There are instances in which a very little practice in evil will make real wickedness seem to one harmless, to another necessary, to another almost satisfactory. This is what the wise prince meant by saying the bread of deceit was sweet. "Yes, it is," says Solomon and afterwards? How may we be certain of the afterwards of deceit? How may we be certain that it will infinitely outweigh the present sweetness?

I. All things that are done by God's creatures are subject to God's judgment. If God approves of a thing, the things that follow from it are sure to be good and happy things. If He condemns it they are sure to be good in one sense, but they are absolutely sure to be destructive of that which is causing evil, and they would not be good unless they were so destructive and baneful and withering to what is evil.

II. The deceiver is especially a person who, by his own act and deed, resolutely and on purpose appeals from this life to the next. He says, "I will not be judged here. I will not now bear the consequences of what I have done." Who can aid him? How can his best lover and friend protect him? Is it wonderful that Solomon and St. John alike, in speaking of the deceiver, say that his time comes afterwards?

Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 132.

Reference: Proverbs 20:22-30 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. ii., p. 362.

Verse 27

Proverbs 20:27

God is the fire of this world, its vital principle, a warm pervading presence everywhere. Of this fire the spirit of man is the candle. What does that mean? If, because man is of a nature which corresponds to the nature of God, and just so far as man is obedient to God, the life of God which is spread throughout the universe gathers itself into utterance; and men, aye and all other beings, if such beings there are, capable of watching our humanity, see what God is in gazing at the man whom He has kindled then, is not the figure plain? It is a wondrous thought, but it is clear enough. Here is the universe, full of the diffused fire of divinity. Men feel it in the air, as they feel an intense heat which has not broken into a blaze. Now in the midst of this solemn burdened world there stands up a man, pure, Godlike, and perfectly obedient to God. In an instant it is as if the heated room had found some sensitive inflammable point where it could kindle to a blaze. The fitfulness of the impression of divinity is steadied into permanence. The fire of the Lord has found the candle of the Lord, and burns clear and steady, guiding and cheering instead of bewildering and frightening us, just so soon as a man who is obedient to God has begun to catch and manifest His nature.

I. Man's utterance of God is purely an utterance of quality. It can tell me nothing of the quantities which make up His perfect life. Whoever has in him the human quality, whoever really has the spirit of man, may be a candle of the Lord. A poor, meagre, starved, bruised life, if only it keeps the true human quality, and does not become inhuman; and if it is obedient to God in its blind, dull, half-conscious way; becomes a light. There is no life so meagre that the greatest and wisest of us can afford to despise it. We cannot know at all at what sudden moment it may flash forth with the life of God.

II. In this truth of ours we have certainly the key to another mystery which sometimes puzzles us. What shall we make of some man rich in attainments and in generous desires, well-educated, well-behaved, who has trained himself to be a light and help to other men, and who, now that his training is complete, stands in the midst of his fellow-men completely dark and helpless? Such men are unlighted candles; they are the spirit of man elaborated, cultivated, finished, to its very finest, but lacking the last touch of God.

III. There is a multitude of men whose lamps are certainly not dark, and yet who certainly are not the candles of the Lord. A nature richly furnished to the very brim, and yet profane, impure, worldly, and scattering scepticism of all good and truth about him wherever he may go. If it be possible for the human candle, instead of being lifted up to heaven and kindled at the pure being of Him who is eternally and absolutely good, to be plunged down into hell, and lighted at the yellow flames that burn out of the dreadful brimstone of the pit, then we can understand the sight of a man, who is rich in every brilliant human quality, cursing the world with the continual exhibition of the devilish instead of the godlike in his life.

IV. There is still another way in which the spirit of man may fail of its completest function as the candle of the Lord. The lamp may be lighted, and the fire at which it is lighted may be indeed the fire of God, and yet it may not be God alone who shines forth upon the world. Such men cannot get rid of themselves. They are mixed with the God they show. This is the secret of all pious bigotry, of all holy prejudice. It is the candle, putting its own colour into the flame which it has borrowed from the fire of God.

V. Jesus is the true spiritual man who is the candle of the Lord, the light that lighteth every man.

Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 1.

Verse 29

Proverbs 20:29

I. The glory of young men is their physical strength. In the great battle against the kingdom of darkness we want, not only a consecrated soul, but a strong arm, stout lungs, and vigorous muscle.

II. The glory of young men is their intellectual strength. A man with any nobleness of character will take a legitimate pride in the possession of a sound reason, a calm judgment, a vigorous brain. The Gospel does not enslave the reason, it sets it free. God requires of you that you think for yourselves. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

III. The glory of young men is their moral strength. It is a grand thing for a man to have a delicate moral sensitiveness, and a strong moral determination. By the former he will scent vice afar off"; and by the latter he will keep out of the way of the tempter, and resist to the death when he is tempted. The very badge of true manliness is self-control.

IV. The glory of young men is their spiritual strength. I speak now of the strength of religious faith. Only a believer can say, with David, "He strengthened me with strength in my soul." Far, far below his true dignity must man remain, until he knows the God that made him.

J. Thain Davidson, Talks with Young Men, p. 3.

References: Proverbs 21:1-8 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. ii., p. 379. Proverbs 21:2 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Genesis to Proverbs, p. 178. Proverbs 21:9-13 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. ii., p. 390. Proverbs 21:10 . Expositor, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 268. Proverbs 22:1 . W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 2nd series, p. 195.Proverbs 22:1-6 . R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. iii., p. 25.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 20". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/proverbs-20.html.
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