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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Proverbs 19

Verse 2

Proverbs 19:2

Also that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.

The advantages of knowledge to the lower classes

The utility of knowledge in general. The extent to which we have the faculty of acquiring knowledge forms the most obvious distinction of our species. As the power of acquiring knowledge is to be ascribed to reason, so the attainment of it mightily strengthens and improves it, and thereby enables it to enrich itself with further acquisitions. Knowledge, in general, expands the mind, exalts the faculties, refines the taste of pleasure, and opens numerous sources of intellectual enjoyment. The moral good of the acquisition of knowledge is chiefly this, that by multiplying the mental resources it has a tendency to exalt the character, and, in some measure, to correct and subdue the taste for gross sensuality. Some think that the instruction of the lower classes will make them dissatisfied with their station in life; and by impairing the habits of subordination, endanger the tranquillity of the state. But, in truth, nothing renders legitimate governments so insecure as extreme ignorance in the people. The true prop of good government is the opinion, the perception, on the part of the subject, of benefits resulting from it. Nothing can produce or maintain that opinion but knowledge. Of tyrannical and unlawful governments, indeed, the support is fear, to which ignorance is as congenial as it is abhorrent from the genius of a free people. Ignorance gives a sort of eternity to prejudice, and perpetuity to error.

The utility of religious knowledge in particular. Religion, on account of its intimate relation to a future state, is every man’s proper business, and should be his chief care. The primary truths of religion are of such daily use and necessity, that they form, not the materials of mental luxury, so properly as the food of the mind. Two considerations may suffice to evince the indispensable necessity of Scriptural knowledge.

1. The Scriptures contain an authentic discovery of the way of salvation.

2. Scriptural knowledge is of inestimable value on account of its supplying an infallible rule of life. Of an accountable creature, duty is the concern of every moment, since he is every moment pleasing or displeasing God. Hence the indispensable necessity, to every description of persons, of sound religious instruction, and of an intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures as its genuine source. (R. Hall, M. A.)

Evils of popular ignorance

. The evils of ignorance. The faculties of reason, and judgment, and moral determination, must ever distinguish man from “the beast that perisheth,” must for ever constitute the true dignity of human nature; but then faculties and powers are of little value in themselves, and if they be not cultivated and developed, and directed to some specific end. Instruction is to man what culture is to plants. When he is deprived of its aid, his powers will either lie wholly dormant, or that which they bring forth, like the productions of the uncultivated plant, will be wild and worthless. Ignorance “is not good” for man, in regard of his social advancement. To the improvement of the mind all nations owe whatever of social blessing they enjoy. The comforts and conveniences of life, the useful and productive arts, the blessings of law and order and good government, are all derived to us from an elevated condition of the national intelligence. Ignorance may be considered as negative of everything that is good and useful: it is the night of a nation’s life, during which it can neither work for itself nor for others. Of all despotisms, the despotism of ignorance is the most tyrannical; its will is the only law it recognises, and it hates the light of reason as the night-bird dreads the sun. Ignorance “is not good” for the cause of national morality and virtue. Virtue can no more exist without a certain amount of knowledge than an animal can exist without life. In proportion as ignorance prevails morality will be destroyed. Ignorance “is not good” for a man’s individual happiness. Ignorance is a state in which all the finer feelings of the human soul are locked up, and the subject of it is deprived of some of the purest forms of moral happiness and enjoyment. Right knowledge tends to promote a man’s happiness, even with regard to the present state. Such knowledge will be found to have an ulterior effect upon a man’s character; it will awaken within him many pure and elevating emotions.

The nature and objects of true knowledge. It may be questioned whether the term education is understood in the plain, broad, comprehensive sense in which Hooker defined it, by whom it was made to comprehend the cultivation of all the moral, spiritual, immortal powers of man. The knowledge that “it is not good” for the soul to be without, includes a knowledge of Holy Scripture. Through this knowledge we get knowledge of other things--ourselves, redemption, sanctification. Without this knowledge a man cannot be moral, cannot be happy, cannot have peace in this life, cannot have hope for the life to come. “It is not good” that a man should be without knowing what are those remedial agencies which have been provided of God for lifting up his soul from its condition of degradation, and preparing it for endless happiness in the presence of his God. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)

The importance of knowledge

Man alone of all the creatures in this lower world is possessed of a rational, intelligent, and immortal soul. Whilst other creatures are made to look down upon the ground, man stands erect, with his lofty countenance looking up to the heavens. He can look abroad on the face of the earth, and understand, in some degree, and admire the wisdom and power and goodness manifested in the works of the great Creator. He has analysed the elements of air and water, and can even make them of their component gases. He can explore the trackless ocean, ride in safety on its swelling billows, and cut his liquid way to the most distant regions of the world. Man can acquire a knowledge of foreign languages, and thus converse with men of other climes and kindreds and tongues. Moreover, by means of written or printed characters, he can spread his thoughts around him yet wider and wider, and even after he has sunk into the grave he can thus mould the minds of generations to come. If, then, the mind of man be capable of such great things, and can exert such a mighty influence, we should take good care that, by affording it Christian knowledge and a religious training, it be rightly informed and properly directed. Thus science and devotion would walk hand in hand together, and lead on our youthful progeny to the knowledge of the true God, and of the duties which they owe to Him and to one another. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good,” is manifest from the consideration that without the knowledge of some useful art or science or business, man, ordinarily speaking, cannot procure the means of support, or fulfil the duties of his station in life. Moreover, that it is not good for the soul to be without knowledge may be inferred from the consideration that the faculties of the mind, on the one hand, are suited to the reception and pursuit of knowledge, and are strengthened and improved when they are so employed; whilst, on the other hand, the whole economy of nature is such as to invite us to examine and admire it. But doubtless the knowledge spoken of in the text relates principally to Divine things. What is the light of science apart from the light of Christ? Now, that the soul be without this knowledge, it is not good--

With regard to the individual himself.

1. It is not good, because such a state is unhappy and unprofitable. “He that is wise may be profitable unto himself.” But how unprofitable is the state of a child growing up without the knowledge of what is necessary to his welfare both in time and through eternity!

2. Such a state is not good, because it is not a safe one. In what an awfully insecure state is the soul that is without the knowledge of God! Any moment the thread of life may be cut asunder, and then shall his desire and expectation perish!

In regard to others.

1. In regard to God and His work. It is true that “our goodness extendeth not to Him.” Our knowledge cannot augment His infinite stores of knowledge. Neither does He need our services. They cannot profit Him, nor add to His perfection and blessedness. But still, in a lower sense, God may be said to need the instruments or agents which He is pleased to make use of in accomplishing His designs. It is manifest that without the knowledge of which I am speaking we cannot be fit instruments in the hands of God for performing His work, for establishing and extending His kingdom through the world.

2. It is not good in regard to our fellow-men. How should he who is without knowledge fulfil the relative and social duties of life, giving to each his due, and benefiting all within his sphere of action? (T. H. Terry, B. A.)

Ignorance is not good

Man is possessed of an immortal principle which, once called into existence, is by its very constitution coeval with its maker. Man has a soul. God has provided for the supply of the soul as well as of the body. The mental aliment is knowledge.

Prove in what respect it is not good that the soul be without knowledge. The knowledge meant is--

1. The knowledge of God as revealed in His Word.

2. A knowledge of Christ crucified.

3. The knowledge of ourselves as fallen moral beings.

4. The knowledge of our threefold duty to God, to our neighbour, and to ourselves.

(1) It is not good for a man’s self, whether we consider him as a solitary or a social being.

(2) It is not good for others. Man, as even heathen moralists maintain, was made for his fellow-creatures as well as for himself. As causes produce effects, so ignorance produces rudeness, incivility, insubordination, and, too frequently, cunning, dishonesty, cruelty, sensuality, and every evil work. It cannot be good for others that they should be left without knowledge. (J. W. Niblock, D. D.)

The benefit of religious knowledge

There are things which we can and things which we cannot know. God hath set a limit to man’s capacity of knowing, as to his faculty of hearing and seeing. There are things hid altogether from mortal ken. Still are there unhallowed longings after the fruit of the tree of knowledge. All that we may know let us set ourselves with energy to acquire. The benefits of knowledge may be traced in the progress of civilisation. It is knowledge which makes the difference between the refined Chinaman and the brutalised Kaffir.

1. If the soul be left without knowledge, it will be unable to detect the false maxims of the world, and of course to avoid the consequences to which they lead.

2. It is not good that the soul be without knowledge, lest we should be contaminated with the noxious errors on religious subjects which prevail so extensively amongst us in the present day.

3. Let the Christian remember that he must not be content with his present attainments. (Albert Bibby, M. A.)

The soul without knowledge

Other translations of this verse are, “It is not good for the soul to be without caution, for he that hasteth with his feet sinneth”; or “Quickness of action, without prudence of spirit, is not good, for he that hasteth with his feet sinneth”; or “Fervent zeal without prudence is not good,” etc.; or “Ignorance of one’s self is not good,” etc. There does not appear the least necessity for any alteration of the received version.

That ignorance is not good for the soul. “The soul without knowledge is not good.” This will appear if we consider three things.

1. That an ignorant soul is exceedingly confined. The mind cannot range beyond what it knows. The more limited its information, the narrower is the scene of its activities. The man of enlarged scientific information has a range over vast continents, whereas the ignorant man is confined within the cell of his senses. Our souls get scope by exploring the unknown. “Knowledge,” says Shakespeare, “is the wing on which we fly to heaven.”

2. That an ignorant soul is exceedingly benighted. The contracted sphere in which it lives is only lighted with the rushlight of a few crude thoughts. Knowledge is light. The accession of every true idea is a planting of a new star in the mental heavens. The more knowledge, the brighter will sparkle the sky of your being.

3. That an ignorant soul is exceedingly feeble. Exercise and food are as essential to the power of the mind as they are to the power of the body. Knowledge is at once the incentive to exercise it and the aliment to strengthen. “Ignorance,” says Johnson, “is mere privation by which nothing can be produced; it is a vacuity in which the soul sits motionless and torpid for want of attraction. And, without knowing why, we always rejoice when we learn, and grieve when we forget.” Truly the soul without knowledge is not good. Of what good are limbs without the power of exercise; what good are eyes without light?

Ignorance is perilous to the soul. Ignorance is more than a negative evil, it is a positive curse. The text teaches that ignorance--

1. Exposes to sinful haste. “He that hasteth with his feet sinneth.” Men without knowledge are ever in danger of acting incautiously, acting with a reckless haste. As a rule the more ignorant a man is the more hasty he is in his conclusions and steps of conduct. The less informed the mind is the more rapid and reckless in its generalisation. Impulse, not intelligence, is the helmsman of the ignorant soul.

2. It exposes to a perversity of conduct. The foolishness of man perverteth his way. What is foolishness but ignorance? Ignorant men are terribly liable to perversity of conduct in every relation of life, and especially in relation to the great God. The murderers of Christ were ignorant. Paul says, had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

3. It exposes to impiety of feeling. Ignorant men are ever disposed to find fault with God. Ignorance is peevish. It is always fretting. Learn that a nation of ignorant souls is not only a nation of worthless men, but a nation liable to the commission of terrible mistakes and crimes. Men should get knowledge for the sake of becoming useful. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The evil of ignorance

A case supposed. “A soul without knowledge.” This is not to be understood absolutely. All knowledge is not blessing, nor all ignorance misfortune. The knowledge specified in the text may imply--

1. A knowledge of the works of God in creation. God is known by His works. Their vast magnitude serves to display His power. Their amazing extent shadows forth His immensity. The admirable harmony that prevails among them evidences His wisdom. And the ample provision made for all creatures exhibits His goodness.

2. A knowledge of our particular calling, trade, or profession. No man is obliged to know everything, but every man ought to know what he professes to know.

3. A knowledge of the will of God, as revealed in the Bible. This revelation is so plain that he may run that readeth it; so ample as to embrace the whole of our duty; so repeated that we have precept upon precept; so circumstantial as to mark every description of character, and identify every variety of situation; so impartial as to know no distinction between the monarch and the beggar; and so full and perfect that nothing can be added to it. Our knowledge of the will of God should be Scriptural, spiritual, experimental, and practical.

An affirmation made concerning it. “It is not good.”

1. It is not good, as it does not harmonise with the original purpose of God in the formation of man.

2. It is not good, as it is not commendable.

3. As it is not beneficial.

4. As it is not comfortable.

5. As it is not safe. From this subject let us learn{l) What gratitude is due to God, who hath afforded us such facilities for the acquisition of knowledge.

(2) How diligently we should use the means with which God hath favoured us for augmenting our stock of knowledge.

(3) Let us commiserate the circumstances of those who are destitute of the means of information. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

The evil tendency of education not based on religion

What is meant by knowledge? An acquaintance with those truths the perception and practice of which will duly qualify us both for our present and future state of existence. To this end we should know ourselves, our capacities, our duties, our particular business or vocation in life; the state of things in which we are placed, the character of mankind in general, and the nature of our social and civil relations. We should know also the revealed character of God; the position in which we stand to Him, the nature of His transactions with the human race, our present condition and future destiny. The matter and extent of knowledge is almost infinite. Exhibiting, as the mind does, a most varied scale of intellectual strength, a corresponding variety in the measure of knowledge is the necessary consequence. Considerations for confirming and illustrating the truth that for the soul to be without knowledge is not good:

1. The human mind is evidently framed for the acquisition of knowledge.

2. A certain degree of knowledge is absolutely necessary to enable men duly to perform their parts in life.

3. Knowledge tends to increase the influence and usefulness of its possessor.

4. It tends to increase the pleasures of life, by opening new sources of innocent enjoyment. If we would give men an education suitable to their character and destinies, we must attend to the cultivation of the heart as well as that of the head. We must make religion a prominent feature in our systems of instruction. Without religion, worldly knowledge, by stimulating the pride and pravity of a corrupt heart, may do much injury. When the foundation of morality and religion is firmly laid, we may proceed with safety to erect the superstructure of human science and general knowledge. But while education may teach men their duty, it cannot enable them to perform it. Religion alone can do that. He who would establish a system of education without making religion the basis of it, is like a man who builds his house upon the sand. He will find the corruptions of human nature too strong for his intellectual barrier. There is no more effectual method of checking the progress of socialism and infidelity than a system of sound, solid, and religious education. Then educate the rising generation, but do so in a sound and Scriptural manner. (E. B. Were, M. A.)

Knowledge essential to man’s welfare

In what senses does the writer affirm the text?

1. In the personal sense. To man as an individual. Knowledge gives him mental occupation.

2. In a domestic sense. The family circle, or household, is the first and simplest form of society. It is necessary to its well-being that a legitimate authority and a due subordination should exist in it. The duties of a parent cannot be performed without the advantages of knowledge.

3. In a social sense. In reference to the proper discharge of our duties towards friends and neighbours, superiors and inferiors.

4. In a political sense. If we desire to make a man a good member of the state, we must instruct him in the principles on which political society is formed, and by which alone can exist. We must teach him the grounds of moral obligation. And what are those grounds but the truths of religion? (Geo. Gibbon, M. A.)

Verse 3

Proverbs 19:3

The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the Lord.

The folly and sin of men in perverting their own way, and then fretting against God

Men are apt to charge all the afflictions which befall them upon God, whereas they bring most of them upon themselves. God is no further accessory to them than as, in the nature of things, and in the course of His wise providence, He hath established a connection between folly and suffering, between sin and misery. Homer observes that “men lay those evils upon the gods which they have incurred through their own folly and perverseness.” “The foolishness of man” signifies his want of thought and reflection; his indiscretion and rashness. It “perverts his way,” leads him aside from the path of wisdom and prudence, safety and happiness; by this means he brings himself into trouble, is reduced to necessity, perplexed with difficulties, or oppressed with sorrow. Then he committeth this grand error after all the rest, that “his heart fretteth against the Lord.” He is vexed, not at himself, but at Providence. “Fretteth” expresses the commotion and uneasiness there is in a discontented, ungoverned mind.

The general principle on which men act in this case is right and just. When they fret against the Lord they suppose that there is a God, and that He observes and interests Himself in the affairs of His creatures; and that it is a considerable part of His providential government to try, exercise, and promote the virtues of His rational creatures by the discipline of affliction.

The conclusion they draw is generally wrong, and their charge upon the providence of God groundless and unjust.

1. It is often the case with regard to men’s health. Many complain that God denies them the health and spirits which He has given to others. But health very largely, and very directly, depends on men’s management of themselves, by indulgence, fretfulness, inactivity, too close application to business, etc.

2. With regard to their circumstances in life. We see men impoverished and reduced to straits and difficulties. They complain that God brings them into straits, and embarrasses their circumstances. But most persons are really in straits through their own negligence, carelessness, or extravagance. Many are ruined in this world by an indolent temper. Cardinal de Retz used to say that “misfortune was only another word for imprudence.”

3. With regard to their relations in life. How many unhappy marriages there are! But they are almost always the consequence of foolish and wilful choices. Many complain that their children are idle, disobedient, and undutiful. But this is generally the result of parental inefficiency in training or in example.

4. With regard to men’s minds and their religious concerns. Many who make a profession of religion are uneasy and fretful, without any external cause; but this is usually owing to their own negligence or self-willedness.

The folly and wickedness of such conduct. It is very absurd, for in most of these cases they have no one to blame but themselves. It likewise proceeds from ignorance of themselves. Fretfulness only tends to aggravate our afflictions and to hurt our minds. It may provoke God to bring upon us some heavier affliction. Application:

1. How much prudence, caution, and foresight are necessary for those who are setting out in life!

2. What a great and mischievous evil pride is!

3. Inquire to what your afflictions are owing.

4. Guard against the great sin of fretting against the Lord. (J. Orton.)

Man’s sorrows the result of his sins

Illustrate the proverb.

1. As regards health.

2. As regards worldly substance.

3. As regards the vexations of domestic life.

4. From the state of the mind.

5. From the world in which we reside.

Instructions derivable from the proverb.

1. It instructs us with regard to sin.

2. It shows the inefficacy of mere suffering to bring a man to a proper state of thinking and feeling.

3. The disposition of the mind under sanctified affliction.

4. The reality of a moral providence.

5. Learn to look to God for His grace and guidance. (W. Jay.)

The misfortunes of men chargeable on themselves

Consider the external condition of man. He is placed in a world where he has by no means the disposal of the events that happen. Calamities befall us, which are directly the Divine dealing. But a multitude of evils beset us which are due to our own negligences or imprudences. Men seek to ascribe their disappointments to any cause rather than to their own misconduct, and when they can devise no other cause they lay them to the charge of Providence. They are doubly unjust towards God. When we look abroad we see more proofs of the truth of this assertion. We see great societies of men torn in pieces by intestine dissensions, tumults, and civil commotions. But did man control his passions, and form his conduct according to the dictates of wisdom, humanity, and virtue, the earth would no longer be desolated by wars and cruelties.

Consider the internal state of man. So far as this inward disquietude arises from the stings of conscience and the horrors of guilt, there can be no doubt of its being self-created misery, which it is impossible to impute to Heaven. But how much poison man himself infuses into the most prosperous conditions by peevishness and restlessness, by impatience and low spirits, etc. Unattainable objects pursued, intemperate passions nourished, vicious pleasures and desires indulged, God and God’s holy laws forgotten--these are the great scourges of the world; the great causes of the life of man being so embroiled and unhappy.

1. Let us be taught to look upon sin as the source of all our miseries.

2. The reality of a Divine government exercised over the world.

3. The injustice of our charging Providence with a promiscuous and unequal distribution of its favours among the good and the bad.

4. The necessity of looking up to God for direction and aid in the conduct of life. Let us hold fast the persuasion of these fundamental truths--that, in all His dispensations, God is just and good; that the cause of all the troubles we suffer is in ourselves, not in Him; that virtue is the surest guide to a happy life; and that he who forsakes this guide enters upon the path of death. (H. Blair, D. D.)

Fretting against God a frequent sin

Men are oftener guilty of this sin than they imagine. Our hearts fret against the Lord by fretting at the ministers and instruments of His providence; and therefore, when the people murmured against Moses in the wilderness, he tells them that their murmuring was not against him and his brother Aaron, but against the Lord. Instead of fretting, it is our duty to accept of the punishment of our iniquity, and to bless God that matters are not so bad with us as we deserve. If our troubles come upon us without any particular reason from our own conduct, yet reflections upon God would be very unjust. Job’s troubles were extremely grievous, and as they came upon him without cause in himself, he was made to acknowledge his great folly in reflecting upon God for his distresses. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The untoward incidents of life must not be charged against God

Let us not charge God overhastily with the untoward incidents of life. In the main we are the manufacturers of our own life-material. If you give the weaver none but dark threads he can only fashion a sombre pattern. (J. Halsey.)

Life regarded as a wrong

George Eliot once said to a friend, with deep solemnity, that she regarded it as a wrong and misery that she had ever been born. (Oscar Browning.)

Verse 4

Proverbs 19:4

Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour.

The rich and the poor

Nothing upon earth is so powerful as money. It is a force before which everything bows. Wealth is such a mighty power, that one possessing it does not feel his dependence as other men do. Being more easily spoiled than other men, his salvation is more difficult. This accounts for everything the gospel has to say about rich men. In speaking of wealth, we are very apt to make the mistake of supposing that only very rich men are wealthy. The Bible accounts that man wealthy who, free from debt, has anything left after making provision for actual necessities of life. Poverty is isolation. When we become poor we become lonely. Either friends withdraw from us or we with- draw from them. When one gets really poor he is pretty much left by his brethren. They may not mean to shun him, but they let him pretty severely alone. The poor are the material we Christians are to work upon. To these we are to let our light shine. It is our holiest work to stop this separation of the poor from his neighbours. The poor are here by Divine intention. The poor help to save our souls. We are not to relieve them only; we are to help them. Giving is not enough to fulfil our Christian duty towards them. Helping the poor to help themselves is the most Christlike thing you can do. Machinery in religious life is to be avoided. It is of use only as it helps to concentrate energy. (G. R. Van de Water.)

Poverty, riches, and social selfishness

The trials of poverty.

1. Degradation. “The poor useth entreaties.” To beg of a fellow-man is a degradation; it is that from which our manhood revolts. “The poor useth entreaties.” They have to mortify the natural independence of their spirit. They are subjected to--

2. Insolent treatment. “The rich answereth roughly.”

3. Social desertion. “The poor is separated from his neighbour.” Who in this selfish world will make friends with the poor, however superior in intellect or excellent in character? When the wealthy man with his large circle of friends becomes poor the poles of his magnet are reversed, and his old friends feel the repulsion.

The temptations of wealth.

1. Upon the mind of its possessor. It tends to promote haughtiness and insolence. “The rich answereth roughly.” The temptation of wealth is revealed--

2. Upon the mind of the wealthy man’s circle. “Wealth maketh many friends.”

The selfishness of society. “Every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” (Homilist.)

Friendship of the world

When I see leaves drop from their trees in the beginning of autumn, just such, think I, is the friendship of the world; just such are the comforts and joys of this life. While the sap of maintenance lasts my friends will swarm in abundance, my joys and comforts will abide with me; but when the sap ceases, the spring which supplies them fails; in the winter of my need they leave me naked. (H. G. Salter.)

Friends sought far money

In Dr. Guthrie’s “Autobiography” there is a good illustration of the unhappy state of cynicism into which the rich are prone to fall. There he relates how, in a winter of extraordinary severity, he made an appeal to a lady who had succeeded to a prodigious fortune, on behalf of the starving poor of his parish. In doing so he had no very sanguine hope of success. On being ushered into her room, she turned round, and showing her thin, spare figure, and a face that looked as if it had been cut out of mahogany, grinned and said, “I am sorry to see ye. What do you want? I suppose you are here seeking siller.” “The very thing I am here for,” was the Doctor’s frank reply. Her next remark demonstrated how little power her riches had of conferring happiness; and with all her wealth of flatterers, what a poor, lonely, desolate, miserable creature this possessor of more than a million sterling was. “Ah,” she said, “there is nobody comes to see me or seek me; but it’s the money, the money they are after.” We are glad to be able to relate that this rich old lady gave to Dr. Guthrie fifty pounds for the poor--an act which we hope shed a gleam of sunshine into her dark life.

Verse 5

Proverbs 19:5

A false witness shall not be unpunished.

The woe of the untruthful

The man who gives wrong evidence. The man of untruthfulness in common conversation. Such men are always punished in one way or another. Nothing is more frequently inculcated in Holy Scripture than the practice of truth, justice, and righteousness. The commandments of God are called “truth,” because in keeping of them lie our truest advantages and everlasting comforts. All kinds of fraud and deception are abominable in the sight of God, and inconsistent with the ordering of any civil government. For--

1. Fraud in commerce and dealing is but a species of robbery.

2. Haughtiness of spirit unfits a man for those offices of meekness, courtesy, and humanity which make society agreeable and easy.

3. No less unsociable is a tongue addicted to calumny, talebearing, and detraction. It is impossible for men of these dispositions not to meet with their punishment in their own mischievous ways. The law of Moses requires the judge who discovers any man bearing false witness against another to inflict the same pains upon him as the accused should have suffered had the allegations proved true. Among the Athenians an action lay, not only against a false witness, but also against the party who produced him. The punishment of false witness among the Old Romans was to cast the criminal headlong from the top of the Tarpeian rock. Later false witnesses were branded with the letter K. By our own statute law the false witness is to be imprisoned for six months and fined twenty pounds. This is a short specimen of such human penalties as have been awarded to false witnesses, considered as pests of mankind and enemies of the laws and governments of the respective communities to which they belong. Yet if such receive no correction from the hand of man, they cannot hope to escape the wrath of God. (W. Reading, M. A.)

Verse 7

Proverbs 19:7

He pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.

Coercing men of ill principles

This verse prescribes a different method of proceeding against known offenders, according to their different characters. The scorner, who makes a jest of everything sacred, and professes an open contempt of religion, is to be treated with great severity. As to sinners who have not resolved to shut their eyes against the light of truth, we are directed to apply ourselves to them in a more easy, gentle, and humane method of reproof.

The reasonableness of employing the secular arm against the scorner. A sense of religion is the great basis upon which all government stands. The scorner is, therefore, an enemy to the state. The scorner who laughs at the very name and pretence of conscience itself has no claim on the toleration of the state.

The obligations we are under to the duty of fraternal reproof.

1. The obligation of a just concern for the honour and interests of religion. The sins and impieties of men bring a scandal and discredit upon religion. To admonish and reprove them for such sins and impieties is a proper means to prevent that scandal and promote the interests of religion. This is one of the methods which the wisdom of God Himself has appointed in order to reclaim sinners from the evil of their ways. As the wisdom of God has directed this method, societies have been formed by men to concert how it may be most effectually pursued.

2. From the charity we owe to our neighbour. It is to a good man one of the greatest pleasures of this life to do good; then what an exceeding pleasure it must be to be instrumental in recovering a lost soul.

(1) Great tenderness and compassion must be used, to give our reproof the greater force and efficacy.

(2) Our reproofs must be modest, and free from all hypocritical ostentations.

(3) Avoid exposing the offender as much as the rule of charity will admit.

(4) Do not give admonitions to superiors the air of reproof.

(5) Take care that reproof is seasonable.

If this be a duty of so great a nicety, we ought not rashly and unadvisedly to take it in hand, but to consider well whether we be in any good measure qualified for it. Those who find themselves really qualified for it ought not to be discouraged from performing it, though it sometimes expose them to inconvenience or make them incur the odium of those with whom they take so unacceptable a freedom. Let us resolve to discharge a good conscience, and leave the consequences of doing our duty to the disposal of God. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)

Verse 8

Proverbs 19:8

He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul

On getting and keeping wisdom

The way of getting this wisdom is to be sensible of our need of it; to trust in Him to whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge belong, for the communication of it; and to be diligent in the use of the means which He hath appointed, and will bless, for conveying it to us.

We must not only get, but keep, this precious treasure, retaining it in our hearts, showing it forth in all our behaviour, and refusing to part with it on any account. (George Lawson, D. D.)

Verse 11

Proverbs 19:11

The discretion of a man deferreth his anger.


If any vice is often reproved in the Word of God, you may be assured it springs prolific in the life of man. In this book of morals anger is a frequently recurring theme. Anger cannot be cast wholly out of man in the present state. On some occasions we do well to be angry. But the only legitimate anger is a holy emotion directed against an unholy thing. Sin, and not our neighbour, must be its object; zeal for righteousness, and not our own pride, must be its distinguishing character. Although anger be not in its own nature and in all cases sinful, the best practical rule of life is to repress it, as if it were. As usual in these laws of God’s kingdom, suffering springs from the sin, as the plant from the seed. The man of great wrath will suffer, although no human tribunal take cognisance of his case. A man of great wrath is a man of little happiness. The two main elements of happiness are wanting; for he is seldom at peace with his neighbour or himself. There is an ingredient in the retribution still more immediate and direct. The emotion of anger in the mind instantly and violently affects the body in the most vital parts of its organisation. When the spirit in man is agitated by anger it sets the life-blood flowing too fast for the safety of its tender channels. The best practical specific for the treatment of anger against persons is to defer it. Its nature presses for instant vengeance, and the appetite should be starved. “To pass over a transgression” is a man’s “glory.” “Looking unto Jesus” is, after all, the grand specific for anger in both its aspects, as a sin and as a suffering. Its dangerous and tormenting fire, when it is kindled in a human breast, may be extinguished best by letting in upon it the love wherewith He loved us. (W. Arnot, D. D.)


This is, strictly speaking, not a moral but an intellectual power. It is simply discernment; discernment and discretion are radically the same words, though east into different forms. Discernment is the ability to distinguish between things. A discreet man is a man who sees what is to his own interest, and acts accordingly. A man’s discretion leads him to discern the men whom he may trust, as distinct from the men whom it is not safe to trust. A man’s discretion is of immense service to him in the conduct of life; and if a man have little or no discretion he comes off very badly: he makes many blunders, sustains many losses, gets into many troubles, which a discreet man entirely escapes. Discretion is the main secret of secular success. But discretion can do some very questionable things. It is great in concealing facts. It is not a very noble property. A man’s discretion nurses many old grudges, watching for the right occasion to pay them off. Discretion has a side of cunning and craft, and links with long-deferred anger and revenge. (Hugh Stowell Brown.)


If you will always be ready to go off like a loaded gun even by an accident, depend on it you will get into difficulty. (Scientific Illustrations.)

Anger controlled and uncontrolled

Anger is an affection inherent in our nature. It is, therefore, not wrong in itself; it is wrong only when it is directed to wrong objects, or to right objects in a wrong degree of amount and duration. Anger in itself is as holy a passion as love. Indeed, in its legitimate form it is but a development of love. Love indignant with that which is opposed to the cause of right and happiness. Albeit, like every affection of our nature, it is often sadly perverted, it not unfrequently becomes malignant and furious.

Controlled. “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” The wise man is liable to the passion, and circumstances in his life occur to evoke it. Instead of acting under its impulse, he waits until its fires cool. It is said of Julius Caesar that when provoked he used to repeat the whole Roman alphabet before he suffered himself to speak; and Plato once said to his servant, “I would beat thee but I am angry.” It is noble to see a man holding a calm mastery over the billows of his own passions, bidding them to go so far and no farther. He who governs himself is a true king. We have anger here--

Uncontrolled. The text suggests two remarks in relation to uncontrolled anger.

1. It is sometimes terrible. “The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion.” It is a lamentable fact that kings have shown less command over their evil tempers than have the ordinary run of mankind. Their temper, it is implied, affects the nation. Their anger terrifies the people like the “roar of a lion”; their favour is as refreshing and blessed as the “dew upon the grass.”

2. It is always self-injurious. “A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment; for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.” Violent passions ever inflict their own punishment upon their unhappy subjects. They injure the body. It sets the blood flowing too quickly for its narrow channels. But it injures the soul in a variety of ways. Well does Pope say, “To be angry is to revenge others’ faults upon ourselves.” Anger is misery. Dr. Arnold, when at Laleham, once lost all patience with a dull scholar, when the pupil looked up in his face, and said, “Why do you speak angrily, sir? Indeed I am doing the best I can.” Years after he used to tell the story to his children, and say, “I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life. That look and that speech I have never forgotten.” (Homilist.)

Verse 14

Proverbs 19:14

And a prudent wife is from the Lord.

Divine direction needed in the choice of a wife

In the choice of a wife, first of all seek Divine direction. About thirty-five years ago, when Martin Farquhar Tupper urged men to prayer before they decided upon matrimonial association, people laughed. And some of them have lived to laugh on the other side of their mouths. The need of Divine direction I argue from the fact that so many men, and some of them strong and wise, have wrecked their lives at this juncture. Witness Samson and the woman of Timnath. Witness Socrates, pecked of the historical Xantippe. Witness Ananias, a liar, who might perhaps have been cured by a truthful spouse, yet marrying as great a liar as himself--Sapphira. Witness John Wesley, one of the best men that ever lived, united to one of the most miserable women, who sat in City Road Chapel making mouths at him while he preached. Witness the once connubial wretchedness of John Ruskin, the great art essayist, and Frederick W. Robertson the great preacher. On this sea of matrimony, where so many have been wrecked, am I not right in advising Divine pilotage? Especially is devout supplication needed because of the fact that society is so full of artificialities that men are deceived as to whom they are marrying, and no one but the Lord knows. After the dressmaker, and the milliner, and the jeweller, and the hair-adjuster, and the dancing-master, and the cosmetic art have completed their work, how is an unsophisticated man to decipher the physiological hieroglyphics, and make accurate judgment of who it is to whom he offers hand and heart? That is what makes so many recreant husbands. They make an honourable marriage contract, but the goods delivered are so different from the sample by which they bargained. They were simply swindled. They mistook Jezebel for Longfellow’s Evangeline, and Lucretia Borgia for Martha Washington. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verse 15

Proverbs 19:15

Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.

Idlers and idleness

In the big, busy city, the one who seems out of touch with it is the idler. He who has no other business than the wretched one of killing time has no portion, right, or memorial in it; nor has he any right or portion in the age which we are serving. There is the rich idler, who lives to amuse himself. Such provide the demoralising element in our society. They lead the fashion in vice and frivolity. There is the poor idler. There are some who “for the sake of equalising poverty and wealth would really equalise indolence and industry.” In our great towns, more than half of our poverty is the result, direct or indirect, of that slothfulness which casts into a deep sleep. There is a hereditary pauperism. There is the poverty of recklessness and thoughtlessness and thriftlessness. A third type of idler is the idle-souled. Busy enough with earth, such have no business with heaven, no business with love, no business even with the ideals of duty. Leisure is very different from idleness. There is no leisure at all when the life is spent in idleness. It is the interval between work and work that gives the helpful leisure. Leisure is good, idleness is bad. Above all things, avoid heart indolence, moral and spiritual indolence, the indolence of the soul. (J. Marshall Lang, D. D.)

Verse 16

Proverbs 19:16

But he that despiseth his ways shall die.

The folly of despising our own ways

The sinner’s fall and ruin. “He shall die.” There is a death that is common to all mankind. That is the general effect of sin. But there is a death which is the particular lot of impenitent sinners. This is--

1. A spiritual death, which is, being cut off from all communion with God.

2. An eternal death. This is but the perfection of the former. This second death is a real thing, and a fearful thing, and it is very near to all who are going on still in their trespasses.

The sinner’s fault and folly which brings him to this ruin. “Despising his own ways.” When may we be said to despise our own ways? When we are altogether unconcerned about the end of our ways. When we are indifferent about the rule of our ways, and the measures by which we govern ourselves in them. Those certainly despise their ways who walk at all adventures, and live at large when they should walk circumspectly and live by rule. God has given us the Scriptures to be the guide of our way. He has appointed conscience to be a monitor to us concerning our way. When we are wavering and unsettled in the course and tenor of our ways, then we despise them. If we do not apply ourselves to God in our ways, and acknowledge Him, we despise our own soul. When we are careless of our past ways and take not the account we ought to take of them. When we are heedless and inconsiderate as to the way that is before us, and walk at all adventures. If we are in no care to avoid sin, or to do our duty.

The foolishness and danger of despising our own ways.

1. The God of heaven observes and takes particular notice of all our ways.

2. Satan seeks to pervert our ways.

3. Many eyes are on us that are witnesses to our ways.

4. According as our ways are now, it is likely to be ill or well with us to eternity.


1. Caution not to be rigid and severe in our censures of other people’s ways.

2. Let it charge us to look well to our own ways.

Be strict in your inquiries concerning your present ways. Be impartial in your reflections upon your past ways. Be very circumspect and considerate as to the particular paths that are before you. (Matthew Henry.)

Verse 17

Proverbs 19:17

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.

Christian pity for the Christian poor

. The great stress which the Scriptures lay upon pity for the poor. That man must be a cursory reader of the Bible who does not see that it pervades the Bible. The old dispensation is full of it. In the new dispensation it is brought out still more prominently.

Why is so great a mass of the Lord’s people found among the poor? If wealth would have been their blessing, wealth they would have had. God would have this manifested by them--that He considers these things in themselves as nothing. Some part of the mystery is to answer Satan’s accusations. And it is for the trial of the grace that is in His people.

The motives urging a good man to show pity to the poor. He “lendeth to the Lord.” Here is a payment spoken of. The Lord is a bounteous giver. (J. H. Evans.)

The deserving poor

We are told that the poor shall never cease out of the land. Paley defines a poor man as he, of whatever rank, whose expenses exceed his resources. It is very clear from this that there may be poverty which has no claim to our commiseration and charity.

Man’s duty towards the deserving poor. “He that hath pity on the poor.” Two things are implied concerning this pity.

1. It must be practical. The text speaks of it as lending to the Lord. It is pity, therefore, that gives, that does something to relieve distress. The pity that goes off in sentimental sighs, or goes no farther than words, saying, “Depart in peace, be warmed, be filled,” is not true pity--the pity that God demands for the poor.

2. It must be genuine. The words imply that the pity is “accepted of the Lord.” He takes it as a loan; therefore it must be genuine. The service rendered is from right principles. There is a large amount of charity shown to the poor which is inspired by motives abhorrent to Omniscient Purity.

God’s interest in the deserving poor. God’s interest in the poor is shown in three ways.

1. In the obligation that is imposed on the rich to help them. He denounces all neglect and cruelty of the poor. “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chamber by wrong, that useth his neighbour’s service without wages.” Again, “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker.” He inculcates practical sympathy for the poor (Exodus 22:21-2.22.22; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 24:19; Proverbs 22:22; Isaiah 1:17-23.1.23).

2. In the earthly condition into which He sent His Son.

3. In the class from which He selected His servants.

The Divine acknowledgment of service to the poor. “And that which he hath given will He pay him again.” Every gift of genuine piety to the poor is a loan to the Lord, and a loan that shall be paid.

1. It is often amply repaid in this world (Deuteronomy 16:17-5.16.20; 2 Corinthians 9:6-47.9.8).

2. It will be acknowledged in the day of judgment. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Lending to the Lord

We are to give to the poor out of pity. Not to be seen and applauded, much less to get influence over them; but out of pure sympathy and compassion we must give them help. We must not expect to get anything back from the poor, not even gratitude; but we should regard what we have done as a loan to the Lord. He undertakes the obligation, and if we look to Him in the matter we must not look to the second party. What an honour the Lord bestows upon us when He condescends to borrow of us! That merchant is greatly favoured who has the Lord on his books. It would seem a pity to have such a name down for a paltry pittance; let us make it a heavy amount. The next needy man that comes this way, let us help him. As for repayment, we can hardly think of it, and yet here is the Lord’s note of hand. Blessed be His name, His promise to pay is better than gold and silver. Are we running a little short through the depression of the times? We may venture humbly to present this bill at the Bank of Faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

For long credit

A wealthy but niggardly gentleman was waited on by the advocates of a charitable institution, for which they solicited his aid, reminding him of the Divine declaration, “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again.” To this he replied, “The security, no doubt, is good, and the interest liberal; but I cannot give such long credit.” Poor rich man! the day of payment was much nearer than he anticipated. Not a fortnight had elapsed from his refusing to honour this claim of God upon his substance before he received a summons with which he could not refuse to comply. He was dead.

The best loan

(to the young):--Pity is the feeling of sorrow we find in our hearts when we see a person in trouble or distress. There are two kinds of pity, a wrong and a right. The wrong kind of pity makes people feel without making them do or give. The right kind makes people do or give, as well as feel. What we do for, or give to the poor, God regards as done or given to Himself. What we lend to another we call a loan. There are many different kinds of loans, but that which is lent to the Lord is the best loan.

Because He receives the smallest sums.

Because it is so safe.

Because He pays good interest. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Argument for charity

This is an argument for charity of wonderful force. No pagan moralist could ever produce a motive for any social duty equal to this. It is sufficient to open the closest fist, and to enlarge the most selfish heart. Can we lose anything by lending it to the Lord? God will be sure to repay what is given to the poor at His command with great increase. The greatest usurer on earth cannot make so much of his money as the man that gives to the poor. (George Lawson, D. D.)

Verse 20

Proverbs 19:20

Hear counsel and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.

Instruction and counsel placed before the young

The advice given. These two things in the text will be found to imply all that is valuable in principle and all that is useful in practice. What is here meant is not the history of the world, the instructions of science, or the general field of literature; but the principles and instructions of religion. The Word of God discovers evidences of the fact that there must be such a being as God. It gives instruction concerning the government of God and concerning man. What is the distinction between counsel and instruction? Instruction consists in the communication of right principles; counsel in the advice by which you may apply these principles practically.

Look to the end to be obtained by receiving the instruction, and hearing the counsel. The benefit here stated--wisdom in the latter end--is a benefit of the greatest importance; it delivers you from the disgrace of sin, of growing up a foolish old man in the midst of so many opportunities of acquiring the blessings of instruction. (J. Burnet.)

Verse 21

Proverbs 19:21

There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.

Devices and counsel

It being impossible for us to know God absolutely, the highest degree of knowledge we can hope to attain unto is by way of comparison with ourselves and other creatures. But because we fail in right knowledge of ourselves, we fail also in right knowledge of God. We think God is altogether such an one as ourselves, and yet we do not know what we ourselves are. The subject introduced by this text is, the difference between the devices of a man and the counsel of the Lord.

The differences.

1. In the names. Devices, imaginations, fancies, chimaeras, “castles in the air.” The vanity of men’s fancies is seen in our ordinary dreams. The name of devices is too high an appellation to bestow upon our vain imaginations, if we knew a worse; so the name of counsel is too low to bestow upon God Almighty’s eternal purpose, if we knew a better.

2. In the number. Ours are devices--in the plural; His but one--counsel in the singular. Men’s purposes are various and changeable. It is the honour of God that His counsel is but one, and unchangeable. The immutability of His counsel. With God there is no after-counsel, to correct the errors of the former.

3. The efficacy. Seen in their different manner of existing. The devices of man are in his heart, but he cannot make them stand. The counsel of the Lord “shall stand”; nothing can hinder it from having its intended effect. The foundation of God standeth firm.

The reasons for these differences.

1. God is the prima causa, the sovereign agent, and first mover in every motion and inclination of the creature. God so orders the vain things of man’s devices by His overruling providence as to make them subservient to His everlasting counsels.

2. God’s eternity. Man is but of yesterday, and his thoughts casual. As himself is mutable, fickle, and uncertain, so are the things he hath to do with subject to contingencies and variations. But the nature of the Godhead is not subject to mutability. All change is either for the better or for the worse, but God cannot change for the better, because He is already best; nor for the worse, for then He should cease to be best.

3. The wisdom of God. Besides their natural ignorance, through precipitancy, misinformation, prejudice, partial affections, and other causes, they are subject to very many mistakes and aberrations. God alone is wise. He will not deceive, being of infinite goodness; He cannot be deceived by any, being of infinite wisdom. There is no room for second thoughts or after-counsels.

4. The power of God. It is not in the power of man to remove those obstacles which prevent his accomplishing his devices, but the power of God has no bars or bounds other than those of His own will.

The inferences.

1. Learn not to trust too much to our own wit; neither to lean to our own understandings; nor to please ourselves over-much in the vain devices, imaginations, fancies, and dreams of our own hearts.

2. However judgment may begin at the house of God, most certain it is that it shall not end there.

3. This is a comfortable consideration to all those that with patience and cheerfulness suffer for the testimony of God, or a good conscience, and in a good cause, under the insolences of proud and powerful persecutors. God can curb and restrain their malice, when they have devised wicked devices.

4. It is well for us, and our bounden duty, to submit to such sufferings as God shall call us to. Give up thyself faithfully to follow the good counsel of God in His revealed will; and then give up thy desires entirely, to be disposed by His wise counsel in His secret will; and He shall undoubtedly give thee thy heart’s desire. If we submit our wills to His, both in doing and suffering, doubtless we cannot finally miscarry. He will consult nothing but for our good; and what He hath consulted must “stand.” (Bp. Sanderson.)

Man’s devices and God’s counsel

;--A “man’s heart” is a little world, full of scheming and business. Let a man have a full inspection of his heart, its “devices,” its schemes, its designs, in their succession. Notice the variety in the kinds of devices, and in men’s temper and manner in respect to them. Some men are very communicative of their heart’s devices; others are close, reserved, dark. Suppose that all the devices of all men could be brought out, in full manifestation, then you would have human nature displayed in its real quality. What manner of spectacle would it be! Suppose that all these devices could be accomplished. What a world you have then! One man’s devices cannot be accomplished compatibly with the accomplishments of another’s. The great collective whole of the “devices” of all hearts constitutes the grand complex scheme of the human race for their happiness. To every device of all hearts, God’s “counsel,” His design, exists parallel, whether in coincidence or in opposition. In other words, respecting the object of every device, He has His design. The text implies a great disconformity--a want of coalescence between the designs of man and God; an estranged spirit of design on the part of man.

The designs of men’s hearts are formed independently of God. In what proportion of men’s internal devisings may we conjecture that there is any real acknowledgment of God? Man’s devising and prosecuting are in such a spirit as if there were no such thing as Providence to aid or defeat. It is deplorable to see dependent, frail, short-sighted creatures confidently taking on themselves the counsel, execution, and hazard of their schemes for being happy, in the very presence, and as in contempt, of the all-wise and almighty Director.

Man’s heart entertains many devices in contrariety to God. It can cherish devices which involve a rebellious emotion of displeasure, almost resentment, that there is a Sovereign Lord, whose “counsel shall stand.” There is one other Mind, which has the knowledge and command of all things, a fixed design, respecting them all, paramount to all designs and devices. The counsel of the Lord sometimes is, not to prevent man’s designs taking effect in the first instance. He can let men bring their iniquitous purposes into effect, and then seize that very effect, reverse its principle of agency, and make it produce immense, unintended good. But in other cases God directly frustrates them. Some devise to oppose religion; others to baffle the practical measures taken for promoting religion; others strive to get rid of the strictness of the laws of God. There are also many projects for temporal gomod, ade in a right spirit, which nevertheless are disappointed and fail, so that we have humbly and complacently to repose in the determination of our God as to what is best. (John Foster.)

The decrees of God, or impressive impressions

The Westminster divines say, “The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This embraces three propositions.

There are decrees of God. God must have formed a plan by which to conduct all His operations. God knows the arrangements upon the accomplishment of which He has determined. The word “decree” is of the same meaning as the word “determine.”

The decrees of God are all involved in one eternal purpose. All the future, and everything included in all the future, is at once and for ever before the glance of His eye.

The decrees of God were all formed according to the counsel of His will. Who can comprehend all that the counsel of His will embraced as to things decreed to exist?

The decrees of God take effect in everything that comes to pass. This has its illustration in--

1. God’s works of creation.

2. God’s works of providence.

3. God’s works of grace.

Objections to this explanation of the decrees of God may be taken.

(1) Some say that this doctrine annihilates man’s responsibility.

(2) Some say, “Then if we are to be saved, we shall be saved; and if to be lost, lost.”

But this is a gross perversion of gospel truth. The means, through the appointed use of which eternal life may be obtained, should be diligently and unweariedly cultivated. (Thomas Adam.)

The devices of man and the counsel of God

Two parts in this text--the proposition and the qualification.

The proposition.

1. The property mentioned. “Many devices”; by which we may understand “conceits” or “contrivances.” Man by nature is very apt and prone to these, whether in matter of apprehension or resolution. Reference here is specially to vain and foolish, or wicked and sinful, devices, which man easily frames, since he voluntarily and wilfully forsook the counsel of God. The variety of man’s devices from the impetuousness and unsatiableness which is commonly in men’s desires; from the levity and inconstancy which is upon men’s souls; from a variety of lusts, and corrupt and inordinate principles, with which the heart of man is cumbered.

2. The subject of this property, man, and precisely, the heart of man. Devices seem to belong to the head rather than to the heart. The heart is here put for the whole mind and soul. The devices are in the heart originally, as the spring and fountain of all. Men’s opinions and conceits take their rise first from their heart.

The qualification.

1. The simple assertion. The counsel of God may be the Word and truth of God, or the purpose and decree of God.

2. The additional opposition or correction of it. “Nevertheless.” Here is the consistence of God’s counsels with man’s. Though man has his devices, God will have His. Because man has his devices, therefore God the Father has His. His counsel is even promoted by man’s devices. (T. Horton, D. D.)

Man’s devices and God’s overrulings

Men projecting. They keep their designs to themselves, but they cannot hide them from God. There are devices against God’s counsels, without His counsels, and unlike His counsels. Men are wavering in their devices, and often absurd and unjust; but God’s counsels are wise and holy, steady and uniform.

God overruling. His counsel often breaks men’s measures, and baffles their devices; but their devices cannot in the least alter His counsel, nor disturb the proceedings of it, nor put Him upon new counsels. What a check does this put on designing men, who think they can outwit all mankind! There is a.God in heaven who laughs at them! (Psalms 2:4). (Matthew Henry.)

Human devices

The devices of men’s hearts. The heart of man is a little world of scheming, and planning, and business. We are always devising.

The vanity of these devices. Our safety consists in their being kept in. They could not be suffered to come forth but at the expense of the ruin of the world. They cannot all be accomplished, because they oppose each other.

The counsel of the Lord overruling these devices. Amidst all these various devices, there is one mighty will going on. All human devices serve God’s counsel. Therefore we should seek to have our devices in principle compatible with God’s counsel. (The Evangelist.)

The mind of man and the mind of God

. The mind of man has many devices; the mind of God has but one counsel.

The mind of man is subordinate, the mind of God supreme.

1. This is a fact well attested by history.

2. This is a fact that reveals the greatness of God.

The mind of man is changeable, the mind of God unalterable. Lessons:

1. The inevitable fall of all that is opposed to the will of God.

2. The inevitable fulfilment of all God’s promises. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 22

Proverbs 19:22

The desire of a man is his kindness: and a poor man is better than a liar.

Circumstances or character

The imperial standard of weights and measures has been sent by the King into the market-place of human life, where men are busy cheating themselves and each other. Public opinion greatly needs to be elevated and rectified in its judgments of men and things. Society is like a house after an earthquake. Everything is squeezed out of its place. A standard has been set up in the market-place to measure the pretences of men withal, and those who will not employ it, must take the consequences. According to that standard “a poor man is better than a liar”; if, in the face of that sure index, you despise an honest man because he is poor, and give your confidence to the substance or semblance of wealth, without respect to righteousness, you deserve no pity when the inevitable retribution comes. Error in this matter is not confined to any rank. “Do not cheat” is a needful and useful injunction in our day; and “Do not be cheated” is another. The trade of the swindler would fail if the raw material were not plentiful, and easily wrought. If the community would cease to value a man by the appearance of his wealth, and judge him according to the standard of the Scriptures, there would be fewer prodigies of dishonesty among us. In the Scriptures a dishonest man is called a liar, however high his position may be in the city. And the honest poor gets his patent of nobility from the Sovereign’s hand. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The desire of kindness

In the Revised Version this sentence reads, “The desire of a man is the measure of his kindness.” The Divine rule of weights and measures is the only true one in the sphere of man’s duties and obligations. But a principle, however good, must not be strained. A man’s kindness is in his heart, not in the measure of the gifts themselves. The hand may be liberal, whilst the heart is illiberal. A desire to do good is a Divine emanation. A desire must be content to go as far as it can, and to do as much as it can. When that limit is reached, we must not be ashamed of doing so little. The desire to be kind is worth cherishing, because it does not always survive the changes in our circumstances. The desire often diminishes in exact proportion to the increase of means and opportunities for doing good. Where our desire to be kind fails through incapacity to do more, God will add what is necessary. The desire to be kind sometimes needs educating. It is not so large as it should be, because it is narrowed by ignorance or want of thought about the responsibilities of wealth. When will men study as earnestly how to use what they have got together as they studied and toiled to get it together? (Thomas Wilde.)

Verse 23

Proverbs 19:23

The fear of the Lord tendeth to life.

The happy life

Godliness has “the promise of the life that now is.” It might have been otherwise. Infinite Benevolence would have His saints to be happy. As God is the source of all happiness in heaven, so all contact with God brings happiness here.

The fear of the Lord. Not that dread of God that is in a sense innate in every unconverted and unregenerate soul, nor that dread which comes into the heart of man when the Holy Spirit opens up the law of God to him, nor the dread that comes into the heart of an unfaithful and backsliding Christian. This is the fear of a child, wrought in the soul by the Spirit. This fear comes from a view of Jesus, from a sight of God in Christ.

Great blessings connected with this fear.

1. This fear tendeth to life; that is, to prolong life, and that a true life.

2. He that hath it shall abide satisfied. There is some satisfaction in lower things, but not abiding satisfaction. Everything connected with the service of God has an unutterable blessing in it.

3. He shall not be visited with evil. Though there may come to him a thousand things that seem only evil, not one real evil shall befall him. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)

The blessedness of the fear of the Lord

Life, satisfaction, freedom from evil! What more can be wanted? And what is there that can bring all this, except the one thing which is mentioned in the text--the fear of the Lord? Oh, why, then, are other things so eagerly sought, and this one thing so lamentably neglected? “The fear of the Lord” often stands in Scripture for the whole of true religion; just as we find “the love of God” or the “keeping of His commandments” put for the same thing. “The fear of the Lord” is that disposition of grace given by His own Spirit to His children whereby they regard Him, their heavenly Father, with a holy awe and reverence and filial dread of offending Him. Of the wicked it is said that “there is no fear of God before his eyes.” He lives, he acts, he speaks, he meditates evil, as if there were no God observing and taking account of his every thought and word and deed.

“the fear of the Lord tendeth to life.” The fear of the Lord, in many cases, “prolongeth days” even in this world. For while “the wicked and the sinner” often, through his own transgressions and excesses, shortens his life, and perhaps does not “live out half his days,” the fear of the Lord frequently, through His blessing, brings health and long life. It does so partly through the temperance and weft-regulated habits to which it leads, and partly through the peace, contentment, and happiness which it causes to the mind, and which are better than medicine for the health of the body.

But now let us observe the next thing which is said in connection with the fear of the Lord: “He that hath it shall abide satisfied”; not only shall be, but shall abide, satisfied. Satisfaction, thorough, abiding satisfaction--is not this the thing which every soul of man desires above all the things that can be named? Riches, honour, power, pleasure, all the so-called goods of earth--are these things desired, even by the most worldly, for their own sake? or are they not coveted rather for the sake of the satisfaction which it is secretly thought they will furnish? But do they, can they furnish satisfaction? Alas! how often do the choicest and most valued earthly prizes wither and crumble in the grasp of those who have attained them! And here we are led to look into the nature and reasons of the abiding satisfaction enjoyed by him that hath the fear of the Lord. Such a person is united to God through Christ. And this being his happy case, he has God in Christ as his “portion” and “exceeding great reward.” And who or what can satisfy as God can? God, the infinite and eternal God, has pleasures, comforts, satisfactions, joys, with which He can so fill the soul as to give it the most perfect and overflowing contentment and happiness, and that for ever and ever. It is true that the complete and absolute perfection of this contentment and happiness cannot be enjoyed in this world of sin and trouble; but still it is equally true that, even here, great and blessed, albeit imperfect and partial, foretastes may be enjoyed of what will be perfect and complete hereafter.

“He that hath it shall not be visited with evil.” What a blessed and cheering promise, in a world like ours, which is so full of evil! But what are we to understand by this promise? Have not the chosen of God, in multitudes of cases, appeared to inherit even a more than ordinary share of trouble and calamity? Certainly, God has often wrought out wonderful deliverances from such outward evil for His chosen; and every one of them would, doubtless, freely acknowledge that he has never been visited with such things as often or as severely as his sins have deserved. But, on the other hand, it is also undeniable that painful losses, cutting griefs, and sore temptations have visited God’s children more or less from the beginning, and at times with remarkable severity. And were not these things “evil”? No, never were any of them really evil to a single one of the true children of God, who feared His name. Though evil in their own nature, they were not evil to them. Even the most trying and painful things work through God’s grace for great good in forming the soul to faith and patience, and unworldliness, and humble waiting upon God; so that affliction is made a school of training and most blessed discipline for heaven. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Yes, there shall no evil happen to the just, no evil that shall hurt his spiritual and eternal interests, no evil which he will think of pronouncing such when he has once quitted this world, where evil is so commonly called good, good evil; and, when he finds himself in that happy state of existence, in which he will no longer “see through a glass darkly,” but with clear, full, and perfect vision. (C. R. Hay, M. A.)

The fruits of personal religion

Vitality. “It tendeth to life.”

1. It is conducive to bodily life.

2. It is conducive to intellectual life. Love to God stimulates the intellect to study God and His works.

3. It is conducive to spiritual life. “This is life eternal, to know Thee,” etc.

Satisfaction. “Shall abide satisfied.”

1. It pacifies the conscience.

2. It reconciles to providence. “Not My will, but Thine be done.”

Safety. “He shall not be visited with evil.” He may have sufferings, but sufferings in his case will not be evils; they will be blessings in disguise. His light afflictions will work out a far more exceeding and eternal glory. (Homilist.)

Verse 24

Proverbs 19:24

A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom.

A protest against laziness

Most critics substitute the word “dish” for “bosom” here: “A slothful man hideth his hand in his dish.” This certainly makes the description of the lazy man more graphic. His repast is provided for him; it is spread before him, but he is too lazy to take it: he drops his hand in the dish. This laziness may be seen in different departments of life.

In worldly concerns.

In intellectual matters. The “dish” of knowledge is laid before a lazy man; he has books, leisure, money, everything in fact to enable him to enrich his mind with knowledge, and train his faculties for distinguished work in the realm of science, but he is too lazy. His mind becomes enfeebled and diseased for the want of exercise. It may be seen--

In spiritual interests. Gospel provisions are laid before the lazy man. There are the “unsearchable riches of Christ”; but he is too indolent to make any exertion to participate in the heavenly blessings. (David Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 25

Proverbs 19:25

Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware.

Man chastising the wrong

Wrong may exist in very different characters. There are three characters mentioned in the passage.

1. “The scorner.” The scorner is a character made up of pride, irreverence, and cruelty. He mocks at sin; he scoffs at religion. He looks with a haughty contempt upon those opinions that agree not with his own.

2. “The simple.” The simple man is he who is more or less unsophisticated in mind, and untainted by crime. One who is inexperienced, unsuspicious, too confiding, and impressible.

3. “One that understandeth knowledge.” This is a character whom Solomon represents in other places as the just man, the wise man, the prudent man--expressions which with him mean personal religion. These three characters, therefore, may comprise the man against religion, the man without religion, and the man with religion. The “scorner” is thoroughly wrong. The “simple” is potentially wrong. He that “hath understanding” is occasionally wrong, or he would not require “reproof.” It is implied--

That wrong in all characters should be chastised. “Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware; and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.” It is not only the duty of rulers to punish crime, but it is the duty of every honest man to inflict chastisement upon wrong wherever it is seen. The withdrawal of patronage, separation from the offender’s society, social ostracism, the administration of reproof, and the expression of displeasure, are amongst the means by which an honest man, even in his private capacity, can chastise the wrong.

That the kind of chastisement should be according to character. “The scorner” is to be smitten. “Smite a scorner.” The man of “understanding” is to be reproved. Reproof to an inveterate scorner would be useless.

That the effects of the chastisement will vary according to the character.

1. The chastisement inflicted upon the scorner will be rather a benefit to others than himself. “Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware.” Severity towards the incorrigible may act as a warning to others.

2. The chastisement inflicted on the man of understanding is of service to himself. He takes it in good part. Wrong exists everywhere around us. Evil meets us in almost every man we meet. It is for us to set ourselves in strong opposition to it wherever it appears. (David Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 27

Proverbs 19:27

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.

Temptation to perilous listening

By the “words of knowledge” understand the principles and dictates of virtue and religion. The wise man’s advice amounts to this--That we should be careful to guard against the arts and insinuations of such as set up for teachers of infidelity and irreligion.

The several temptations which men lie under to listen to such instructors. It is one step toward security to see the dangers we are exposed to. Since the fears and apprehensions of guilt are such strong motives to infidelity, the innocence of the heart is absolutely necessary to preserve the freedom of the mind. In the most unhappy circumstances of sin and guilt, religion opens to us a much safer and more certain retreat than infidelity can possibly afford. Vice is not the only root from which infidelity springs. Reason itself is betrayed by the vanity of our hearts, and sinks under the pride and affectation of knowledge. All kinds of laudable ambition grow to be vicious and despicable when, instead of pursuing the real good which is their true object, they seek only to make a show of an appearance of it. Thus it is that ambition for virtue produces hypocrisy; ambition for courage, boastings and unreasonable resentments; ambition for learning and knowledge, pedantry and paradoxes. Another sort of temptation is a kind of false shame, which often, in young people especially, prevails over the fear of God and the sense of religion. When religion suffers under the hard names of ignorance and superstition, they grow ashamed of their profession, and by degrees harden into denying God.

The danger that lies in listening to these instructors. Here only speak to such as have not yet made shipwreck of reason and conscience. It is an unpardonable folly and inexcusable perverseness for men to forsake religion out of vanity and ostentation; as if irreligion were a mark of honour and a noble distinction from the rest of mankind. We must answer for the vanity of our reasoning as well as for the vanity of our actions. If the punishments of another life be, what we have too much reason to fear they will be, what words can then express the folly of sin? Consider, therefore, with yourselves, that when you judge of religion, something more depends upon your choice than the credit of your judgment or the opinion of the world. Religion is so serious a thing as to deserve your coolest thoughts, and it is not fit to be determined in your hours of gaiety and leisure, or in the accidental conversation of public places. Trust yourself with yourself; retreat from the influence of dissolute companions, and take the advice of the psalmist, “Commune with your own heart.” (T. Sherlock, D. D.)

Avoid false books and teachers

The enemies of religion now say that every man in search of truth ought to put himself in a way to hear both sides. Lay it down as a general rule that men ought not to read those books or hear those preachers that inculcate gross errors, i.e., essential errors. The popular pretence that men must hear both sides is an insidious attack on the Bible, a covered insinuation that the Bible is insufficient to enlighten. Every one should early settle his belief in the leading doctrines of the gospel. Why need such an one expose himself to the infection of error. Men are naturally so averse to the truth that it is infinitely dangerous for those not fully confirmed in it to expose themselves to the contagion of error. They ought not to presume so much on their own stability. Men cannot parley with error and be safe. And if the man himself is safe, he ought to consider the injury he may do to others by encouraging the promulgation of dangerous errors. The encouragement of erroneous teachers and books is conspiring against God. Popularly it is said that truth will recommend itself to every man’s conscience, and none can be injured by seeing it compared with error. In answer, it may be said--

1. This is founded on a principle which men would not admit in any other case.

2. The objection would be less deceptive if in matters of religion men were more inclined to truth than to error.

3. The retailers of false doctrine do not state things candidly.

4. The antidote to error does not always go along with the error itself.

5. Facts speak decisively against the encouragement of false books and teachers, under the pretence mentioned in the objection.


1. To those who profess to be the friends of God and established in the truth. Do not encourage the promulgation of known errors.

2. To such as are not established in religious opinions. Get established without delay. Error in every form is couching to make you his prey. Beware of an indiscreet desire to read every new book and to hear every new preacher. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)

A protest against the immoral

Socrates often frequented the theatre, which brought a great many thither out of a desire to see him. On which occasion it is recorded of him that he sometimes stood to make himself the more conspicuous, and to satisfy the curiosity of the beholders. He was one day present at the first representation of a tragedy of Euripides, who was his intimate friend, and whom he is said to have assisted in several of his plays. In the midst of the tragedy, which had met with very great success, there chanced to be a line that seemed to encourage vice and immorality. This was no sooner spoken, but Socrates rose from his seat, and without any regard to his affection for his friend or to the success of the play, showed himself displeased at what was said, and walked out of the assembly. (The Tatler.)


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 19". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.