A soft answer turneth away wrath. Two things are here to be observed: an answer should be given—the injured person should not wrap himself in sullen silence; and that answer should be gentle and conciliatory. This is tersely put in a mediaeval rhyme—
"Frangitur ira gravis
Quando est respensio suavis."
"Anger, however great,
Is checked by answer sweet."
Septuagint, "A submissive ( ὑποπίπτουσα) answer averteth wrath." Thus Abigail quelled the excessive anger of David by her judicious submission (1 Samuel 25:24, etc.). But grievous words stir up anger. A word that causes vexation makes anger rise the higher.
ὁργῆς ματαίας εἰσὶν αἰτιοι λόγοι.
"Of empty anger words are oft the cause."
The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright. This means either, brings it forth opportunely, it the right time and place, or illustrates it, makes it beautiful and pleasant, as Proverbs 15:13. The wise man not only has knowledge, but can give it appropriate expression (comp. Proverbs 16:23). Vulgate, "The tongue of the wise adorneth wisdom." The wise man, by producing his sentiments and opinions in appropriate language and on proper occasions, commends wisdom, and renders it acceptable to his hearers. Septuagint, "The tongue of the wise knoweth what is fair ( καλά)." But the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness (Proverbs 15:28). A fool cannot open his mouth without exposing his folly; he speaks without due consideration or discretion; as the Vulgate terms it, ebullit, "he bubbles over," like a boiling pot, which emits its contents inopportunely and uselessly. Septuagint, "The mouth of fools proclaimeth evil."
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding—keeping watch on—the evil and the good. The omnipresence and omniscience of Jehovah, the covenant God, is strongly insisted upon, and the sacred name recurs continually in this and the next chapter, and indeed throughout this Book of the Proverbs (see Wordsworth, in loc.). The LXX. renders the verb σκοπεύοιυσι "are watching," as from a tower or high place. To the usual references we may add Ec Proverbs 15:18, Proverbs 15:19; Proverbs 23:19, Proverbs 23:20. Corn. a Lapide quotes Prudentius's hymn, used in the Latin Church at Thursday Lauds—
"Speculator adstat desuper,
Qui nos diebus omnibus
Actusque nostros prospicit
A luce prima in vesperum."
"For God our Maker, ever nigh,
Surveys us with a watchful eye;
Our every thought and act he knows,
From early dawn to daylight's close."
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life; a tongue that brings healing, that soothes by its words. Septuagint, "the healing of the tongue." But the Vulgate rendering is better, lingua placabilis, "the gentle, mild tongue" (see on Proverbs 14:30). Speech from such a source refreshes and vivifies all who come under its influence, like the wholesome fruit of a prolific tree (comp. Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 11:30).
ψυχῆς νοσούσης ἐστὶ φάρμακον λόγος
"The sick soul by a healing word is cured."
But perverseness therein—in the tongue—is a breach in the spirit. The perverseness intended must be falsehood, perversion of the truth. This is ruin and vexation (Isaiah 65:14, where the same word is used) in the spirit, both in the liar himself, whose higher nature is thus terribly marred and spoiled, and in the case of his neighbour, who is injured by his slander and falsehood to the, very core. The LXX; with a different reading, translates, "But he who keepeth it [the tongue] shall be filled with the spirit."
A fool despiseth his father's instruction (Proverbs 10:1): but he that regardeth reproof is prudent (Proverbs 19:25). The son who attends to his father's reproof dealeth prudently, or becomes wiser. Astutior fiet, Vulgate; πανουργότερος, Septuagint. The Vulgate has here a distich which is not in the Hebrew, but a similar paragraph is found in the Septuagint. Thus Vulgate, "In the abundance of righteousness virtue is greatest; but the imaginations of the wicked shall be rooted up;" Septuagint, "In the abundance of righteousness is much strength; but the impious shall be destroyed from the very root." The addition seems to have been an explanation of the following verse, which has been foisted into the text here.
In the house of the righteous is much treasure (chosen; see on Proverbs 27:24). The good man's store is not wasted or wrongly used, and is blest by God: and therefore, whether absolutely much or little, it is safe, and it is sufficient. In a spiritual sense, the soul of the righteous is filled with graces and adorned with good works. Septuagint, "In the houses of the righteous is much strength;" plurima fortitudo, Vulgate. But in the revenues of the wicked is trouble. Great revenues acquired by wrong or expended badly bring only trouble, vexation, and ruin upon a man and his family. Septuagint, "The fruits of the wicked shall perish." Spiritually, the works of the wicked cause misery to themselves and others.
The lips of the wise disperse knowledge (Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 10:31). The LXX. takes the verb יִרָוּ in its other signification of "binding" or "embracing," and translates, "The lips of the wise are bound ( δέδεται) with knowledge;" i.e. knowledge is always on them and controls their movements. The wise know when to speak, when to be silent, and what to say. But the heart of the foolish doeth not so; i.e. doth not disperse knowledge. Vulgate, cor stultorum dissimile erit, "will be unlike," which probably means the same as the Authorized Version. (Compare a similar use of the words lo-ken in Genesis 48:18; Exodus 10:11.) But the contrast is stated rather weakly by this rendering, lips and heart having the same office to perform; hence it is better, with Delitzsch, Ewald, and others, to take כֵן (ken) as an adjective in the sense of "right" or "trustworthy," and either to supply the former verb, "disperseth that which is not right," or to render, "The heart of the foot is not directed right;" the fool goes astray, and leads himself and others into error. Septuagint, "The hearts of fools are not safe ( ἀσφαλεῖς)."
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord. The costly sacrifice of the wicked is contrasted with the prayer, unaccompanied with sacrifice, of the upright. The first clause occurs again in Proverbs 21:27, and virtually in Proverbs 28:9. But in the latter passage the prayer of the wicked is denounced as abomination. Sacrifice, as legal and ceremonial, would be more naturally open to the charge of deadness and unreality; while prayer, as spontaneous and not legally enjoined, might be deemed less liable to for realism; all the more hateful, therefore, it is if not offered from the heart. The worthlessness of external worship without obedience and devotion of the heart is often urged by the prophets (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11, etc.; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 5:6; Amos 5:22; see also Ec 31:18, etc.). The lesson was needed that the value of sacrifice depended upon the mind and disposition of the offerer, the tendency being to rest in the opus operatum, as if the external action was all that was necessary to make the worshipper accepted. This text was wrested by the Donatists to support their notion of the inefficacy of heretical baptism. St. Augustine replied that the validity of the sacrament depended not on the spiritual condition of the minister, but on the appointment of Christ. The text has also been applied to confirm the opinion that all the acts of unjustified man are sin. The truer view is that God's grace does act beyond the limits of his visible Church, and that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit concurs with the free will of man before he is formally justified. The second clause recurs virtually in verse 29.
This verse gives the reason for the treatment specified in the preceding verse (comp. Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 12:22). Followeth after; chaseth, implying effort and perseverance, as in the pursuit of game (Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 21:21).
Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way. The verse is climacteric, and the first clause is better translated, There is a grievous correction for him that forsaketh the way; then the second clause denotes what that correction is: he that hateth reproof—i.e. he that forsaketh the way—shall die. "The way" is the path of goodness and righteousness (Proverbs 2:13). "The way of life." the Vulgate calls it; so Proverbs 10:17. Ec Proverbs 21:6, "He that hateth reproof is in the way of sinners." The Authorized Version is quite allowable, and is supported in some degree by the Vulgate, Doctrina mala deserenti viam vitae. The sinner is annoyed by discipline, correction, or true teaching, because they curb the indulgence of his passions, make him uneasy in conscience, and force him to look to future issues. Septuagint, "The instruction of the guileless ( ἀκάκου) is known by passers-by; but they who hate reproofs die shamefully." The Syriac adopts the same rendering; but it is a question whether the word ought not to be κακοῦ. Menander says—
ὁ μὴ δαρεὶς ἄνθρωπος οὐ παιδεύεται.
"Man unchastised learns naught."
Hell and destruction are before the Lord. The two words rendered "hell" and "destruction" are respectively Sheol and Abaddon, Infernus and Perditio, ἅιδης and ἀπώλεια (comp. Proverbs 27:20). The former is used generally as the place to which the souls of the dead are consigned—the receptacle of all departed spirits, whether good or bad. Abaddon is the lowest depth of hell, the "abyss" of Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:2, etc.; 20:l, etc. The clause means that God's eye penetrates even the most secret corners of the unseen world. As Job (Job 26:6) says, "Sheol is naked before him, and Abaddon hath no covering" (comp. Psalms 139:7, etc.). How much more then the hearts of the children of men? (For the form of the expression, comp. Proverbs 11:31 and Proverbs 19:7; and for the import, Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2; Jeremiah 17:10.) If God knows the secrets of the world beyond the grave, much more does he know the secret thoughts of men on earth. The heart is the source of action (see Matthew 15:19, etc.).
A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him (Proverbs 9:8; Amos 5:10). For "scorner" the Vulgate has pestilens, and the Septuagint ἀπαίδευτος, "undisciplined." "Scorners" are spoken of elsewhere, as Proverbs 1:22 (where see note); they are conceited, arrogant persons, free-thinkers, indifferent to or sceptical of religion, and too self-opinionated to be open to advice or reproof. Neither will he go unto the wise, who would correct and teach him (Proverbs 13:20). Septuagint, "He will not converse ( ὁμιλήσει) with the wise." He does not believe the maxim—
σοφοῦ παρ ἀνδρὸς χρὴ σοφόν τι μανθάνειν.
"From a wise man you must some wisdom learn."
A Latin adage runs—
"Argue consultum, te diliget: argue stultum
Avertet vultum, nec te dimittet iuultum."
A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance. The face is the index of the condition of the mind.
"In the forehead and the eye
The lecture of the mind doth lie."
And, again, "A blithe heart makes a blooming visage" (comp. Ecclesiasticus 13:25, etc.). Septuagint, "When the heart is glad, the face bloometh ( θάλλει)." But by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken (Proverbs 12:25). Happiness is shown in the outward look, but sorrow has a deeper and more abiding influence; it touches the inner life, destroys the natural elasticity, creates despondency and despair (comp. Proverbs 16:24; Proverbs 17:22). Corn. a Lapide quotes St. Gregory Nazianzen's definition—
"Laetitia quidnam? Mentis est diffusio.
Tristitia? Cordis morsus et turbatio."
Hitzig and others translate the second clause, "But in sorrow of heart is the breath oppressed." It is doubtful if the words can be so rendered, and certainly the parallelism is not improved thereby.
The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge (Proverbs 18:15). The wise man knows that he knows nothing, and is always seeking to learn more.
σοφία γάρ ἐστι καὶ μαθεῖν ὂ μὴ νοεῖς
"To learn what thou hast never thought is wisdom."
The mouth of fools. Another reading, is "the face of fools;" but the former is more suitable to what follows. Feedeth on foolishness. So the Vulgate and Septuagint, "The mouth of the undisciplined knoweth evil." The fool is always gaping and devouring every silly, or slanderous, or wicked word that comes in his way, and in his turn utters and disseminates it.
All the days of the afflicted are evil. "The days of the poor are evil," says the Talmud ('Dukes,' 73); but in our verse the contrasted clause restricts the sense of "the afflicted" to mental, not material, evil. The Vulgate pauperis gives a wrong impression. The persons intended are such as take a gloomy view of things, who are always in low spirits, and cannot rise superior to present circumstances. These never have a happy moment; they are always taking anxious thought (Matthew 6:25), and forecasting evil. The LXX; reading עיני for עני, translates, "At all times the eyes of the evil expect evil." But he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. The cheerful man's condition is a banquet unceasingly, a fixed state of joy and contentment. Septuagint, "But the righteous are at peace always;" Vulgate, "A secure mind is like a perpetual feast." "For," says St. Gregory ('Moral,' 12.44), "the mere repose of security is like the continuance of refreshment. Whereas, on the other hand, the evil mind is always set in pains and labours, since it is either contriving mischiefs that it may bring down, or fearing lest these be brought down upon it by others." Our own proverb says, "A contented mind is a continual feast."
Better is little with the fear of the Lord. The good man's little store, which bears upon it the blessing of the Lord, is better than great treasure and trouble therewith, i.e. with the treasure (Proverbs 16:8; Psalms 37:16). The trouble intended is the care and labour and anxiety attending the pursuit and preservation of wealth. "Much coin, much care" (comp. Ecclesiastes 6:4). It was good advice of the old moralist, "Sis pauper honeste potius quam dives male; Namque hoc fert crimen, illud misericordiam." Vulgate, thesauri magni et insatiabiles, "treasures which satisfy not;" Septuagint, "Great treasures without fear (of the Lord)." Christ's maxim is, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).
Better is a dinner (portion) of herbs where love is. A dish of vegetables would be the common meal, whereas flesh would be reserved for festive occasions. Where love presides, the simplest food is cheerfully received, and contentment and happiness abound (Proverbs 17:1). Lesetre quotes Horace's invitation to his friend Torquatus ('Epist.,' 1.5. 1)—
"Si potes Archiacis conviva recumbere lectis,
Nec modica cenare times olus omne patella,
Supreme te sole domi, Torquate, manebo."
"If, dear Torquatus, you can rest your head
On couches such as homely Archias made,
Nor on a dish of simple pot herbs frown,
I shall expect you as the sun goes down."
So the old jingle—
"Cum dat oluscula menes minuscula pace quieta,
Ne pete grandia lautaque prandia lite repleta."
A stalled ox is one taken up out of the pasture and fatted for the table. Thus we read (1 Kings 4:23) that part of Solomon's provision for one day was ten fat oxen and twenty oxen out of the pastures; and the prophets speak of "calves of the stall" (Amos 6:4; Malachi 4:2; comp. Luke 15:23). The fat beef implies a sumptuous and magnificent entertainment; but such a feast is little worth if accompanied with feelings of hatred, jealousy, and ill will. This and the preceding verse emphasize and explain Proverbs 15:15.
A wrathful man stirreth up strife (contention). This clause recurs almost identically in Proverbs 29:22 (comp. also Proverbs 26:21 and Proverbs 28:25). He that is slow to anger appeaseth strife (Proverbs 14:29). In the former clause the word for "contention" is madon, in the latter "strife" is rib, which often means "law dispute." It requires two to make a quarrel, and where one keeps his temper and will not be provoked, anger must subside. Vulgate, "He who is patient soothes aroused quarrels (suscitatas)." Septuagint, "A long suffering man appeases even a coming battle."
"Regina rerum omnium patientia."
The LXX. here introduces a second rendering of the verse: "A long suffering man will quench suits; but the impious rather awaketh them."
The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns. The indolent sluggard is always finding or imagining difficulties and hindrances in his path, which serve as excuses for his laziness. The word for "thorn" here is chedek. It occurs elsewhere only in Micah 7:4, where the Authorized Version has "briar;" but the particular plant intended is not ascertained. Most writers consider it to be some spinous specimen of the solanum. The word refers, it is thought, to a class of plants the name of one of which, at least, the miscalled "apple of Sodom," is well known in poetry, and is a proverbial expression for anything which promises fair but utterly disappoints on trial. "This plant, which is really a kind of potato, grows everywhere in the warmer parts of Palestine, rising to a widely branching shrub from three to five feet high; the wood thickly set with spines; the flower like that of the potato, and the fruit, which is larger than the potato apple, perfectly round, and changing from yellow to bright red as it ripens …. The osher of the Arab is the true apple of Sodom. A very tropical-looking plant, its fruit is like a large smooth apple or orange, and hangs in clusters of three or four together. When ripe, it is yellow, and looks fair and attractive, and is soft to the touch, but if pressed, it bursts with a crack, and only the broken shell and a raw of small seeds in a half-open pod, with a few dry filaments, remain in the hand". Cato, 'Dist.,' 54.3, 5—
"Segnitiem fugito, quae vitae ignavia fertur;
Nam quum animus languet, consumit inertia corpus."
To the sluggard is opposed the righteous in the second member, because indolence is a grievous sin, and the greatest contrast to the active industry of the man who fears God and does his duty. The way of the righteous is made plain; "is a raised causeway;" selulah, as Proverbs 16:17 : Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 49:11. The upright man, who treads the path appointed for him resolutely and trustfully, finds all difficulties vanish; before him the thorns yield a passage; and that which the sluggard regarded as dangerous and impassable becomes to him as the king's highway. Vulgate, "The path of the just is without impediment;" Septuagint, "The roads of the manly ( ἀνδρείων) are well beaten." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 30.51), "Whatever adversity may have fallen in their way of life, the righteous stumble not against it. Because with the bound of eternal hope, and of eternal contemplation, they leap over the obstacles of temporal adversity" (comp. Psalms 18:29).
Third section of this collection.
(For this verse, see Proverbs 10:1.) A foolish man despiseth his mother, and therefore is "heaviness" to her. Or the verb may mean "shameth." "A foolish man" is literally "a fool of a man."
Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom; literally, void of heart; i.e. of understanding (Proverbs 10:23). The perverse, self-willed fool finds pleasure in going on his evil way, and exposing the fatuity which he takes for wisdom. Septuagint, "The ways of the senseless are wanting in intelligence." A man of understanding walketh uprightly; goes the right way. It is implied that the fool goes the wrong way.
Without counsel—where no counsel is—purposes are disappointed (Proverbs 11:14); there can be no concerted action, or the means used are not the best that could be devised. Hesiod, εργ; 293—
ἐσθλὸς δ αὖ κἀκεῖνος ὃς εὖ εἰπόντι πίθηται
ὃς δὲ κε μήτ αὐτὸς νοέῃ μήτ ἄλλου ἀκούων
ἐν θυμῷ βάλληται ὁ δ αὖτ ἀχρήιος ἀνήρ
(Comp. Proverbs 20:18.) In the multitude of counsellors they are established (Proverbs 24:6). We read of "counsellors" as almost regular officials in the Hebrew court, as in modern kingdoms (see 1 Chronicles 27:32; Isaiah 1:26; Micah 4:9; comp. Ezra 7:28). There is, of course, the danger of secrets being divulged where counsellors are many; and there is Terence's maxim to fear, "Quot heroines, tot sententiae;" but, properly guarded and discreetly used, good counsel is above all price. Septuagint, "They who honour not councils ( συνέδρια) lay aside ( ὑπερτίθενται) conclusions; but in the hearts of those who consult counsel abideth" (compare the parallel clause, Proverbs 19:21).
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth. The idea of the preceding verse concerning counsel is maintained. A counsellor gives wise and skilful advice, or makes a timely speech; and, knowing how much harm is done by rash or evil words, he naturally rejoices that he has been able to be useful, and has avoided the errors which the tongue is liable to incur. A word spoken in due season, sermo opportunus, is advice given at the right moment and in the most suitable manner, when the occasion and the interests at stake demand it (comp. Proverbs 25:11). The LXX. connects this verse with the preceding, and renders, "The evil man will not hearken to it (counsel), nor will he say aught in season or for the public good."
The way of life is above to the wise; Revised Version, to the wise the way of life goeth upward. The writer means primarily that the wise and good lead such a life as to preserve them from death (Proverbs 14:32). The path may be steep and painful, but at any rate it has this compensation—it leads away from destruction. It is obvious to read into the passage higher teaching. The good man's path leads heavenward, to a high life here, to happiness hereafter; his conversation is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), his affections are set on things above (Colossians 3:2). Such an upward life tends to material and spiritual health, as it is added, that he may depart from hell (SheoI) beneath. Primarily, a long and happy life is promised to the man who fears the Lord, as in Proverbs 3:16; secondarily, such a one avoids that downward course which ends in the darkness of hell. Vulgate, "The path of life is above the instructed man, to make him avoid the nethermost (novissimo) hell;" Septuagint, "The thoughts of the prudent man are the ways of life, that turning from Hades he may be safe."
The Lord will destroy the house of the proud (Proverbs 12:7; Proverbs 14:11; Proverbs 16:18). The proud, self-confident man, with his family and household and wealth, shall be rooted up. The heathen saw how retribution overtook the arrogant. Thus Euripides says—
ὁ ζεὺς κολαστὴς τῶν ἄγαν ὑπερφρόνων
"Zeus, the chastiser of too haughty thoughts."
But he will establish the border of the widow. He will take the widow under his protection, and see that her landmark is not removed, and that her little portion is secured to her. The widow is taken as the type of weakness and desolation, as often in Scripture (comp. Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 146:9). In a country where property was defined by landmarks—stones or some such objects—nothing was easier than to remove these altogether, or to alter their position. That this was a common form of fraud and oppression we gather from the stringency of the enactments against the offence (see Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; and comp. Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28). In the Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions which have been preserved, there are many invoking curses, curious and multifarious, against the disturbers of boundaries. Such marks were considered sacred and inviolable by the Greeks and Romans.
The thoughts of the wicked (or, evil devices) are an abomination to the Lord. Although the Decalogue, by forbidding coveting, showed that God's Law touched the thought of the heart as well as the outward action, the idea here refers to wicked plans or designs, rather than emphatically to the secret movements of the mind. These have been noticed in Proverbs 15:11. But the words of the pure are pleasant words; literally, pure are words of pleasantness; i.e. words of soothing, comforting tone are, not an abomination to the Lord, as are the devices of the wicked, but they are pure in a ceremonial sense, as it were, a pure and acceptable offering. Revised Version, pleasant words are pure. Vulgate, "Speech pure and pleasant is approved by him"—which is a pharaphrase of the clause. Septuagint, "The words of the pure are honoured ( σεμναί)."
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house (Proverbs 11:29). The special reference is doubtless to venal judges, who wrested judgment for lucre. Such malefactors were often reproved by the prophets (see Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:1, etc.; Micah 3:11; Micah 7:3). But all ill-gotten gain brings sure retribution. The Greeks have many maxims to this effect. Thus—
κέρδη πομηρὰ ζημίαν ἀεὶ φέρει
τὰ δ αἰσχρὰ κέρδη συμφορὰς ἐργάζεται
"Riches ill won bring ruin in their train."
An avaricious man troubles his house in another sense. He harasses his family by niggardly economies and his domestics by overwork and underfeeding, deprives his household of all comfort, and loses the blessing of God upon a righteous use of earthly wealth. The word "troubleth" (akar, "to trouble") reminds one of the story of Achan, who, in his greed, appropriated some of the spoil of the banned city Jericho, and brought destruction upon himself and his family, when, in punishment of the crime, he and all his were stoned in the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:25). So the covetousness of Gehazi caused the infliction of the penalty of leprosy upon himself and his children (2 Kings 5:27). Professor Plumptre ('Speaker's Commentary,' in loc.) notes that the Chaldee Targum paraphrases this clause, referring especially to lucre gained by unrighteous judgments, thus: "He who gathers the mammon of unrighteousness destroys his house;" and he suggests that Christ's use of that phrase (Luke 16:9) may have had some connection with this proverb through the version then popularly used in the Palestinian synagogues. He that hateth gifts shall live (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:7). Primarily this refers to the judge or magistrate who is incorruptible, and gives just judgment, and dispenses his patronage without fear or favour; he shall "prolong his days" (Proverbs 28:16), And in all cases a man free from covetousness, who takes no bribes to blind his eyes withal, who makes no unjust gains, shall pass a long and happy life undisturbed by care. We see here a hope of immortality, to which integrity leads. The LXX; with the view of making the two clauses more marked in antithesis, restricts the application thus: "The receiver of gifts destroyeth himself; but he who hateth the receiving of gifts liveth." The Vulgate and Septuagint, after this verse, introduce a distich which recurs in Proverbs 16:6. The Septuagint transposes many of the verses at the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next.
The heart of the righteous studieth to answer. The good man deliberates before he speaks, takes time to consider his answer, lest he should say anything false, or inexpedient, or injurious to his neighbour. A Latin adage runs—
"Qui bene vult fari debet bene praemeditari."
βουλεύου δὶς καὶ τρίς ὅτοί κ ἐπὶ τὸν νόον
ἀτηρὸς γὰρ ἀεὶ λάβρος ἀνὴρ τελέθει
"Whate'er comes in your mind, deliberate;
A hasty man but rushes on his fate."
Septuagint, "The heart of the prudent will meditate πίστεις," which may mean "truth," "fidelity," or "proofs." The Vulgate has "obedience," implying attention to the inward warnings of conscience and grace, before the mouth speaks. Poureth out (Proverbs 15:2). The wicked man never considers; evil is always on his lips and running over from his mouth. Septuagint, "The mouth of the ungodly answereth evil things." The LXX. here inserts Proverbs 16:7.
The Lord is far from the wicked. The maxim is similar to that in Proverbs 15:8 and John 9:31, "We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth." God is said to be "far" in the sense of not listening, not regarding with favour (comp. Psalms 10:1). His attention to the righteous is seen in Psalms 145:18, Psalms 145:19. The LXX. introduces here Proverbs 16:8, Proverbs 16:9.
The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart (Proverbs 16:15). The beaming glance that shows a pure, happy mind and a friendly disposition, rejoices the heart of him on whom it is turned. There is something infectious in the guileless, joyful look of a happy man or child, which has a cheering effect upon those who observe it. The LXX. makes the sentiment altogether personal: "The eye that seeth what is good rejoiceth the heart." A good report (good tidings) maketh the bones fat; strengthens them and gives them health (comp. Proverbs 3:8; Proverbs 16:24). Sight and hearing are compared in the two clauses, "bones" in the latter taking the place of "heart" in the former. The happy look and good news alike cause joy of heart.
The ear that heareth (hearkeneth to) the reproof of life abideth among the wise (Proverbs 6:23). The reproof, or instruction, of life is that which teaches the true way of pleasing God, which is indeed the only life worth living. The ear, by synecdoche, is put for the person. One who attends to and profits by such admonition may be reckoned among the wise, and rejoices to be conversant with them. Wordsworth finds a more recondite sense here: the ear of the wise dwells, lodges, passes the night (Proverbs 19:23) in their heart, whereas the heart of fools is in their mouth (Proverbs 14:33). This verse is omitted in the Septuagint, though it is found in the other Greek versions and the Latin Vulgate.
This verse carries on and puts the climax to the lesson of the preceding. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul; "hateth himself," Septuagint; commits moral suicide, because he does not follow the path of life. He is like a sick man who thrusts away the wholesome medicine which is his only hope of cure. He that heareth (listeneth to) reproof getteth understanding; literally, possesseth a heart, and therefore does not despise his soul, but "loves it" (Proverbs 19:8), as the LXX. renders.
The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; that which leads to and gives wisdom (see Proverbs 1:3, Proverbs 1:7, etc.; Proverbs 9:10). 'Pirke Aboth,' 3.26, "No wisdom, no fear of God; no fear of God, no wisdom. No knowledge, no discernment; no discernment, no knowledge." Before honour is humility (Proverbs 18:12). A man who fears God must be humble, and as the fear of God leads to wisdom, it may be said that humility leads to the honour and glory of being wise and reckoned among the wise (Proverbs 15:31). A man with a lowly opinion of himself will hearken to the teaching of the wise, and scrupulously obey the Law of God, and will be blessed in his ways. For "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6; comp. Luke 1:52). The maxim in the second clause has a general application. "He that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12; comp. Luke 14:11; James 4:6). It is sanctioned by the example of Christ himself, the Spirit itself testifying beforehand his sufferings that were to precede his glory (1 Peter 1:11; see also Philippians 2:5, etc.). Septuagint, "The fear of the Lord is discipline and wisdom, and the beginning of glory shall answer to it." Another reading adds, "Glory goeth before the humble," which is explained to mean that the humble set before their eyes the reward that awaits their humility, and patiently endure, like Christ, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
A soft answer and a bitter word
Both of these are regarded as replies to angry words. They represent the wise and the foolish ways of treating such words. They give us a bright and a dark picture. Let us look at each.
I. THE BRIGHT PICTURE.
1. The answer. A soft answer need not be a weak one, nor should it imply any compromise of truth, nor any yielding of righteousness. It may be firm in substance, though soft in language and spirit. Very often the most effective reply is given in the mildest tone. It is impossible to resent it, yet it is equally impossible to answer it. But often we may go further. When no vital interest of truth or righteousness is at stake, it may be well to yield a point of our own will and pleasure in order to secure peace.
2. Its inspiration. Such an answer might well be prompted by wisdom, for it is suggested on the ground of prudence in "Proverbs." Yet there is a higher motive for softness in reply to wrath. Christian love will inspire the kinder method, for love is more desirous of peace and good feeling than of securing all that might be justly demanded. To stand on one's rights and resent the slightest intrusion upon them is to act from self-interest, or at best from a sense of self regarding duty. A higher feeling enters and a larger view follows when we are considering our brother's feelings, the sorrow of a quarrel and the blessedness of peace.
3. Its results. It is successful—not, perhaps, in gaining one's own way, but in allaying wrath. It turns away wrath. The angry opponent is silenced. For very shame he can say no more; or his wrath dies out for want of fuel; or he is won to a better feeling by the generous treatment. At the worst he can find little pleasure in fighting an unarmed and unresisting opponent.
II. THE DARK PICTURE. The ugly contrast of this second picture is necessary in order to emphasize the beauty of the former one. But however interesting they may be in art, Rembrandtesque effects are terrible in real life; for here they represent agonies and tragedies—hatred, cruelty, and misery. Yet they need to be considered if only that they may be abolished.
1. The bitter answer. This is more than an angry retort. Bitterness is more pungent than wrath. While rage thunders, bitterness stabs. It contains a poisonous element of malice, and it means more ill will than the hot but perhaps hasty words that provoke it.
2. The root of its bitterness. No doubt this springs from a feeling of injury. The angry man has wronged his companion, or, at least, wounded him, and the retort is provoked by pain. But pain alone would not engender bitterness. A new element, a virus of ill will, is stirred when the bitter word is flung back, and it is the outflow of this ill will that gives bitterness to the answer.
3. The anger that it rouses. This new anger is worse than that which commenced the quarrel. Each reply is more hot, more furious, more cruel. Thus a great wrath is roused and a great fire kindled by a very little spark that has been fanned into a flame when it should have been quenched at the outset.
There is no question as to which of these two pictures best accords with Christian principle. The gospel of Christ is God's soft answer to man's rebellious wrath.
The eyes of the Lord.
I. GOD HAS EYES. We must always describe the Infinite and Invisible One in figurative language. But just as we speak of the arms and hands of God when thinking of his power and activity, so we cannot better conceive of his wonderful observing faculty than by saying that he has eyes. God can see; he can watch his creatures. It would be an awful thing if the universe were governed by a blind power. Yet that is the condition imagined by those who regard force, unconscious energy, as the highest existence in the universe and the cause of all things. We could but tremble before a blind god. What awful confusion, what terrible disasters, would result from the almighty energy of such a being crashing through all the complicated and delicate machinery of the world's life!
II. GOD USES HIS EYES. He is not a sleeping deity. He never slumbers, never closes his eyes. Day and night are alike to him. There is never a moment when he ceases to observe the world and all that is in it. There are men of whom we can say, "Eyes have they, but they see not;" unobservant people, who pass by the most obvious facts without noticing them; dreamers, who live in a world of their own fancies, and fail to see the things that are really happening about them. God is not thus self-contained. He has an outer life in the universe, and he neither scorns nor fails to observe all that is happening. We have to do with an ever-watchful, keenly observant God.
III. GOD'S EYES ARE EVERYWHERE. We can only see clearly what is near to us. All but the largest objects are lost in distance, and the horizon melts into obscurity. Not so with God.
1. He sees the distant. Indeed, nothing is distant from him. He is everywhere, so that what we should regard as the most remote objects are under his close ken. No Siberian solitude, no far-off deserted planet, no star lost to the rest of the universe and rushing off into the awful waste of space, can be far from God's presence and observation.
2. He sees the obscure. No fog dims his vision; no night blots out the objects he is ever gazing upon; no hiding in secret chambers, deep cellars, black mines of the earth, can remove anything from God's sight.
3. He sees the unattractive. Our vision is selective. Many objects pass close before our eyes, yet we never see them, because we are not interested in them. God is interested in all things. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without his notice.
IV. GOD'S EYES SEE THE EVIL. Though he is merciful, he is too true to refuse to see the sin of his children.
1. The sinner cannot escape by secrecy. If God does not strike at once, this is not because he does not know. Meanwhile the deluded sinner is but "treasuring up wrath."
2. God is long suffering. If he forbears to strike at once and yet knows all, it must be that he waits to give us an opportunity to repent. His gospel is offered in full view of our sin. There is nothing to be discovered later on that may turn God's mercy from us. He knows the worst when he offers grace.
V. GOD'S EYES SEE THE GOOD.
1. He observes his children's secret devotion. Unnoticed by men, they are not unheeded by God. Misunderstood and misjudged on earth, they are quite understood by him. Should it not be enough to know that God knows all, and will recognize faithful service?
2. He observes his children's need. Prayer is necessary to express our faith, etc; but not to give information to God. He knows our condition better than we do. Therefore, though he seems to neglect us, it cannot be so really. No mother ever watched over her sick infant as God watches over his poor children.
A joyous heart or a broken spirit
These are the two extremes. The less we have of the one the more we tend towards the other. The first is encouraged that it may save us from the disasters of the second condition.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE HEART IS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE. "Out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The first essential for one whose life has been wrong is the creation of "a clean heart" (Psalms 51:10). According as we think and feel in our hearts, so do we truly live. Now, it is the merit of Christianity that it works directly on the heart, and only touches the outer life through this primary inward operation. We must set little store on the external signs of prosperity if the heart is wrong. When that is right the rest is likely to follow satisfactorily.
II. THE JOY OR SORROW OF THE HEART ARE NOT MATTERS OF INDIFFERENCE. The religion of the Bible is not Stoicism. It is nowhere represented to us in this book that it matters not whether men grieve or are joyous. On the contrary, the Bible contains valuable recipes against heart pangs. God's pity for his children would lead to his concerning himself with such matters. Christ's human sympathy, which led to his being frequently "moved with compassion," made him alleviate suffering and seek to give his joy to his disciples. The special mission of sorrow and the large healing and strengthening influence of the highest kind of joy make these experiences to be of real interest to the spiritual life.
III. THE OUTER LIFE IS BRIGHTENED BY JOY OF HEART. It is possible for the actor to assume a smiling countenance when his heart is bursting with agony, but that is just because he is an actor. It is not intended by Providence that the face should be a mask to bide the soul. In the long run the set expression of the countenance must correspond to the prevalent condition of the spirit within. The sad heart will be revealed by a clouded countenance, the heart of care by the fretted lines of a worn lace, the peaceful heart by a serene expression, and the glad heart by unconscious smiles. Thus we shed gloom or sunshine by our very presence. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). With the brightened countenance there comes revived energy. Moreover, the cheerful expression of a Christian is a winning invitation to others. It makes the gospel attractive.
IV. THE SPIRIT IS BROKEN BY SORROW OF HEART. It must be confessed that we have here only a partial view of sorrow. The richer revelation which the New Testament makes of the Divine gospel of sorrow gives it a new meaning and a higher blessedness. Since Christ suffered, suffering has been sanctified, and the Via Dolorosa has become the road to victory. Nevertheless, mere sorrow is still trying, wearing, grinding to the soul. To bear the cross for Christ's sake is to render noble service, but simply to groan under the load of pain is not to be inspired with strength. Jesus was not only "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" he could speak of his joy just before feeling his deepest agony. A life of utter sorrow must be one of utter weariness.
1. Therefore we should seek the grace of Christ to conquer sorrow in our own hearts. There is no virtue in yielding to it with self-made martyrdom.
2. It is a good work to lessen the world's sorrow.
Proverbs 15:16, Proverbs 15:17
The better things
Earthly good is comparative. Many things regarded by themselves appear to be eminently attractive; but if they exclude more desirable things they must be rejected. We need not make the worst of this world in order to make the best of the higher world. Taking earth at its brightest, it is still outshone by the glories of heaven. But earth is not always at its brightest; and we must make our comparison with the actual facts of life, not with ideal possibilities.
I. GODLY POVERTY IS BETTER THAN TROUBLED WEALTH.
1. Wealth is dissappointing. It might be shown that wealth at its best cannot satisfy the soul; for
But plain experience shows that the advantages of wealth are very commonly neutralized by trouble.
2. Godliness is satisfying. It may be found with wealth. Then it will correct the evils and supply the detects. But it may be seen with poverty, and in this case it will prove itself the true riches which will give what money can never supply. Indeed, in presence of this real good the question as to whether even great earthly treasure is to be added need not be raised. It is lost in the infinitely greater possession. The ocean will not be concerned to know whether the trickling sreamlet that flows into its abundant waters be full or failing. Further, it is to be noted that God satisfies the soul directly, while at best riches can only pretend to do so indirectly. Riches seek to buy happiness. Inward religion directly confers blessedness. To have God is to be at rest.
II. LOVE WITH PRIVATIONS IS BETTER THAN HATRED WITH SUPERFLUITY.
1. Hatred neutralizes superfluity. What is the use of the ox in the stall if hatred makes a hell of the home? How often is it seen that the comforts of affluence only mock the wretchedness of their master, because the more essential joys of affection have been shattered! A household of discord must be one of misery. Family feuds cannot but bring unhappiness to all concerned in them. Hatred in the house leads to wretchedness in proportion to the blessedness that love would have conferred. We are more touched by our relations with persons than by our relations with things. Therefore, if those closer relations are marred, no prosperity of external affairs can bring peace.
2. Love can neutralize privations. The dinner of herbs may not be hurtful in itself. Daniel and his companions throve on it (Daniel 1:15). If it is not attractive and appetizing, other considerations may withdraw our attention from it and fill the heart with joy. Love is more than meat. Nay, even bitter herbs may be not unpalatable when seasoned with affection, while an alderman's feast will be insipid to a guest who is preoccupied with vexatious thoughts.
The word in season
I. WHAT IT IS. The word in season is the right word spoken at the right time. It may not be the word that is sought and asked for. It may even be an unwelcome word, a startling word, a word of rebuke. What can be more seasonable than to cry, "Halt!" to one who is nearing the precipice in the dark? Yet he neither expects the word, nor for the moment accepts it with favour. The great requisite is that the word should be suitable for the occasion. This has a special bearing on the word of highest wisdom, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should be on the look out for suitable moments—e.g. in sorrow, when the heart is softened; in leisure hours, when the mind is open; at new departures, when special guidance is needed; after mistakes have been made, to correct and save; when doubts have been expressed, to remove their paralyzing influence; when Christ has been dishonoured, to vindicate his holy Name. These are all times for speech, but not for uttering the same words. The occasion must determine the character of the word.
II. WHY IT IS GOOD.
1. The soil must be in a right condition, or the seed that is flung upon it will be wasted. It is useless to cast bushels of the best wheat by the wayside, and foolish to cast pearls before swine. Men do not sow seed in the heat of August nor during a January frost. Our business is to sow beside all waters, and yet to watch for the rising of the waters and make a right use of the seasons. There is a time to speak and a time to keep silence, not because these epochs are fixed by some Divine almanack of destiny, but just because silence is golden when mind and heart need rest and privacy, and speech is precious when sympathy is craved, or when wise words can be received with thoughtful attention. There are "words that help and heal."
2. The special condition of the hearer determines what he will best receive. We should not preach consolation to a merry child, nor talk of the difficulties of religion before a person who has never been troubled with them. On the other hand, it is useless simply to exhort the soul perplexed with diverse thoughts to "believe and be saved." Indeed, in private conversation the peculiar characteristics of each individual will require a different mode of approach. We cannot discuss theology with an uneducated man as we may have to discuss it with a young graduate.
III. HOW IT MAY BE SPOKEN. It is not easy to find the word in season, and certain conditions are absolutely essential to the production of it.
1. Sympathy. This is the primary condition. It may be almost affirmed that where this is strong the rest will follow. We cannot speak wisely to a fellow man until we have learnt to put ourselves in his place.
2. Thought. Great considerateness is necessary that we choose the right word, and then speak it just at the right moment. If a man blurts out the first thought that comes into his mind, he may do infinite harm, though he be acting with the best intention.
3. Courage. Those who are most fitted by sympathy and thoughtfulness are often most backward to utter the word in season. To such it seems easier to preach to a thousand hewers than to talk directly with one soul. Yet personal conversation is most fruitful. It was Christ's method, e.g. with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, etc. This duty is sadly neglected from lack of moral courage.
Character and prayer
The character of a man has much to do with the efficacy of his prayer. The prayers of different men are not of equal value. One man's most urgent petition is but wasted breath, while the slightest sigh of another is heard in heaven, and answered with showers of blessing. Let us consider how these great diversities come to be.
I. A MAN'S NEARNESS TO GOD IS TO BE MEASURED BY HIS CHARACTER. Some men appear to have what is called a gift of prayer, but in reality they are only cursed with a fatal fluency in phrases. By long habit they have acquired a facility of pouring forth voluminous sentences with a certain unctuousness that persuades inconsiderate hearers into the notion that they are "mighty in prayer." Yet, in truth, this facility is of no account whatever with God, who does not hear our "much speaking." On the other hand, if a man's heart is wrong with God, he is cut off from access to heaven. Such a man cannot truly pray, though he may "say his prayers." It may be said that even the worst sinner can pray for pardon, and of course this is a great and glorious truth. But he can only do so effectually when he is penitent. The man whose heart and life turn towards goodness is brought into sympathy with God, so that he is spiritually near to God, and his prayers find ready access to heaven.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN WILL DETERMINE THE CHARACTER OF HIS PRAYERS. He may be known by his prayers, if only we can tall what those prayers really are. His true heartfelt desires, not his due and decorous devotions, are the best expression of his real self. Now, a bad man will desire bad things, and a good man good things. It would be most unfitting in God, indeed positively wrong, to give the bad man the desires of his heart. But he who prays in the name of Christ, i.e. with his authority, can only pray for the things of which Christ approves, and he will only do this when he has the spirit of Christ, and is in harmony with the mind and will of his Lord. The holy man will only pray—consciously, at least—for things that agree with holiness. It is reasonable to suppose that his prayers will be heard when the fit petitions of the bad man are rejected.
III. THE CHARACTER OF A MAN AFFECTS HIS FITNESS TO RECEIVE DIVINE ANSWERS TO HIS PRAYERS. Two men may ask for precisely similar things in the way of external blessings. Yet one is selfish, sinful, rebellious, and ungrateful. To give to this man what he asks will be hurtful to him, injurious to others, dishonouring to God. But a good man will know how to receive blessings from God with gratitude, and how to use them for the glory of his Master and the good of his brethren. Further, in regard to internal blessings, what would be good for the man whose heart and life are in the right, would be hurtful to the trope,trent. Saint and sinner both pray for peace. To the saint this is a wholesome solace; to the sinner it would be a dangerous narcotic. Therefore God responds to the prayer of the one, and rejects the petition of the other.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 15:2, Proverbs 15:4, Proverbs 15:7
Virtues and vices of the tongue
I. MILDNESS AND VIOLENCE. (Proverbs 15:1.) The soft answer is like the water which quenches, and the bitter retort, the "grievous words," like the oil which increases the conflagration of wrath. As scriptural examples of the former, may be mentioned Jacob with Esau (Genesis 32:1-32, Genesis 33:1-20), Aaron with Moses (Le Proverbs 10:16-20), the Reubenites with their brethren (Joshua 22:15-34), Gideon with the men of Ephraim ( 8:1-3), David with Saul (1 Samuel 24:9-21), Abigail with David (1 Samuel 25:23-32). And of the latter, Jephthah ( 12:1-6), Saul (1 Samuel 20:30-31), Nabal (1 Samuel 25:10-13), Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:12-15), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39).
II. THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF WISE SPEECH AND THE REPULSIVENESS OF FOOLISH TALK. (Proverbs 15:2.) If this verse be more correctly rendered, it means that the tongue of the wise makes knowledge lovely, while the mouth of the fool foams with folly. The speech of the former is apt to time and place—coherent—and wins upon the listener. The latter is unseasonable, confused, nonsensical, repellent. Notice the tact of St. Paul's addresses (Acts 17:22, Acts 17:23; Acts 26:27-29), and what he says about foolish babbling in 2 Timothy 2:16-18; Titus 1:10.
III. MODERATION AND EXTRAVAGANCE. (Titus 1:4.) A calm and measured tone should be cultivated, as well as a pure and peaceful heart; these mutually react upon one another. The extravagant, immoderate, licentious tongue is "like a blustering wind among the boughs of the trees, rushing and tearing the life and spirit of a man's self and others" (Bishop Hail). Beware of exaggeration.
IV. SPEECH A DIFFUSIVE INFLUENCE. (Titus 1:7.) The lips of the wise scatter seeds of good around them; not so with the heart and lips of the fool. "They trade only with the trash of the world, not with the commerce of substantial knowledge." The preaching of the gospel is compared to the scattering of good seed, and evil activity is the sowing of tares in the world field (Matthew 13:24, etc.).—J.
The omnipresence of God
I. GOD IS A SPIRIT. We cannot exhaust the sublimity, the awfulness, the comfort, the meaning, in this thought.
II. GOD SEES ALL AND KNOWS ALL. Both the good and the evil. In looking upon evil deeds which pass unchastised in appearance, we are ready to exclaim, "And yet God has never spoken a word!" But God has seen, and will requite.
III. HENCE LET US POSSESS OUR SOULS IN PATIENCE. Commit them unto him in well doing, and wait for the "end of the Lord." He knows, among other things, the need of his children, and bethinks him of helping and delivering them.—J.
Contempt and respect for instruction
The fool is as a "wild ass's colt" (Job 11:12), recalcitrant, stubborn; while he who early shows a willingness to listen to good advice has the germ of prudence, the prophecy of a safe career.
I. A MURMURING TEMPER, A RELUCTANCE TO SUBMIT TO NECESSITY AND THE COURSE OF LIFE, IS IN REALITY A CONTEMPT OF GOD.
II. SUBMISSION TO THE INEVITABLE, COMPLIANCE TO THE LAWS OF LIVING, IS DOCILITY TO GOD.—J.
True and false gains
I. A MAN MAY RE POOR, YET POSSESS ALL THINGS. (2 Corinthians 6:10.) Deus meus, et omnia!
II. A MAN MAY BE RICH, YET DESTITUTE, POOR, BLIND, AND MISERABLE. If we are not satisfied, we are not rich. If we are content, we are never poor.
III. GOD IS THE TRUE AND ONLY GAIN OF THE SOUL. We have a nature which will be satisfied with nothing short of the Infinite. To attempt to feed it with anything less is found to be a cheat and a self-delusion.—J.
Proverbs 15:8, Proverbs 15:9
God's hatreds and God's delights
We all have our aversions, natural antipathies, acquired hatreds. A noted author not long ago published a book called 'Mes Haines.' What are the hatreds of him who is Love? They should be our aversions.
I. THE SACRIFICE OF THE WICKED. (Proverbs 15:8.) It is not the man's works which make him good, but the justified man—the man made right with God—produces good works, and these, though imperfect, are well pleasing to God. The lack of heart sincerity must stamp every sacrifice, as that of Cain, as an abomination.
II. THE PRAYER OF THE GOOD MAN. Symbolized by fragrant incense, sweet to him are pious thoughts, wishes for the best, charitable aspirations, all that in the finite heart aims at the Infinite.
III. THE WAY OF THE WICKED. A prayerless life is a godless, and hence a corrupt life. It is a meaningless life, and God will not tolerate what is insignificant in his vast significant world.
IV. THE PURSUIT OF GOOD. He who hunts after righteousness, literally, is loved of God. We learn the necessity of patience, constancy, diligence in well doing. In no other way can genuineness and thoroughness be shown.—J.
The principle of judgment
I. IT IS NEVER CAUSELESS.
II. THE CONNECTION OF CAUSE AND EFFECT IS OFTEN MYSTERIOUS. Hence we should be slow to trace the judgment of God upon sinners.
III. SOME SINS THAT FORETELL JUDGMENT.
1. Desertion of duty; forsaking of God's ways; travelling in paths we know to be crooked or unclean.
2. Indifference to rebuke. For even in error, if we will heed the timely warning and correct the discovered fault, judgment may be averted. If not, there is no way of avoiding the law of doom. The soul that sinneth shall and "must die."—J.
The heart open to God
I. THE HEART A PROFOUND MYSTERY. We speculate about the mysteries of the world without us, as if these were the great secrets, forgetful what an abyss of wonder is within.
II. THIS MYSTERY MAY BE COMPARED TO THAT OF HADES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE DEVIL.
1. It is equally profound.
2. It is equally fascinating.
3. It is equally hidden from our knowledge.
Peruse our greatest masters of the human heart—a Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne—we have still not touched the bottom.
III. THE MYSTERY OF ALL WORLDS IS KNOWN TO GOD, THE INTERNAL NO LESS THAN THE EXTERNAL.
1. This is a thought of awe.
2. Still more it should be of comfort.
My God, thou knowest all, all that fain would hide itself from others, even from myself—and yet "hast stooped to ask of me the love of this poor heart"!—J.
Sullen folly and cheerful wisdom
I. DISLIKE OF CRITICISM. (Proverbs 15:12.) Often seen in those who are most critical themselves. The jiber is easily galled by a telling retort. The satirical man least loves satire upon himself. But one of the lessons we learn from truly great minds is that of willingness to turn a jest against one's self, and to find positive pleasure in a criticism of one's own character that hits the mark, provided it be good natured. But with ill nature no one can be pleased. Most necessary it is for the health of the soul to be often with those who know more than we do.
II. THE APPEARANCE THE MIRROR OF THE MAN. The placid, serene, smiling, winning visage reflects the soul; and so with the downcast brow and dejected mien. It may surprise us that so commonplace an observation should be thought worth recording; but there was a time when such flashed upon man as a new discovery. Perhaps it may be a discovery to many that they may do much by assuming a cheerful manner to regulate and calm the heart.
III. BUT APPEARANCES ARE NOTHING WITHOUT REALITY. (Proverbs 15:14.) To be truly wise is not to know a great deal, but to be always on the track and pursuit of knowledge; and to be utterly foolish it is only necessary to give the reins to vanity, to yield to idleness, to follow every passing pleasure. The countenance of the fool is expressive of what? Of the want of impressions, of vacancy and vanity.
IV. THE FOLLY OF GLOOM AND THE WISDOM OF CHEERFULNESS. (Proverbs 15:15.) In what sense can we ever say that our days are evil, except that we have made them so? And how more readily can we make them so than by yielding to the dark and gloomy mood, and ever looking on the dark side of things? The side of things on which we see the reflection of our narrow selves is ever dark; that on which we see God's attributes mirrored—the beauty of his nature, the wisdom of his providence—is bright and inspiring. It is, indeed, a feast to the soul to have found God; for thought, for feeling, forevery practical need, he is present, he alone "shall supply all our need." Our Lord thus speaks of his body and his blood, of which to eat is life.—J.
Proverbs 15:16, Proverbs 15:17
I. POVERTY WITH PIETY, OR RICHES WITH DISCONTENT. Which shall we choose? Naturally all, or nearly all, will prefer to take riches with its risks rather than poverty with its certain privations. Our Bible is precious because it reminds us that there is another side in this matter. Riches are too dearly gained at the expense of peace of conscience; poverty is blessed if it brings us nearer to God.
II. SCANTY FARE WITH RICH SPIRITUAL SEASONING, OR RICH FARE WITH A POOR HEART. Which? For ourselves and our personal comfort? For others and the hospitality we should like to dispense to them? For ourselves, high thinking with tow living; for others, slight fare with large welcome will make a true feast.—J.
Facets of moral truth
Again flashing upon us, mostly in the light of contrast. As, indeed, from precious stones and false paste, up to the highest truths of the spirit, we can know nothing truly except by the comparison of its opposite.
I. HASTE OF TEMPER AND LONG SUFFERING. (Proverbs 15:18.) Quarrelsomeness, irritable words (would that we could recall them!), a thousand stabs and wounds to the heart of our friend and to our own, the result of the former. For the latter, read the exquisite descriptions of the New Testament wherever the word "long suffering" occurs, and see the matchless beauty, and learn to covet the possession of that character—the impress of God in human nature—and those best gifts which belong to "the more excellent way."
II. IDLENESS AND HONESTY. (Proverbs 15:19.) The way of the former beset with difficulty. Lazy people take the most trouble, in the affairs of the soul as in everything. The honest path is the only easy path in the long run. We must remember that it is a long run we have to pass over, and must make our choice accordingly. Life is no mere picnic or excursion. For amusement of the leisure hour we may strike into a by-path, but never lose sight of the high road of faith.
III. PARENTAL JOY AND SORROW. (Proverbs 15:20.) On the whole, these are one of the best indices of a man's character. A truly good parent may not understand his child, as Mary misunderstood Jesus; but at the bottom of the heart, when there is filial goodness there is parental sympathy and approval.
IV. SPURIOUS JOY AND QUIET PERSISTENCE IN RIGHT. (Proverbs 15:21.) This is a good contrast. The fool is not content with saying or doing the foolish thing; he must needs chuckle over it and make a boast of it, often gaining applause for his mere audacity. But the man of true sense is content to forego the momentary triumph, and goes on his way. Ever to forsake the way we know to be right, even in momentary hilarity, brings its after sting.
V. FAILURE AND SUCCESS IN COUNSELS. (Proverbs 15:22.) Wild tumultuous passion causes the former; and calm deliberation, the comparison and collision of many minds, brings about sound and stable policy. To lean upon one's own weak will, to act in haste or under impulse, how seldom can a prosperous issue come of this! See how individuals rush into lawsuits, nations into war, speculators into bankruptcy,—all for want of consultation and good advice. We need the impetus of enthusiasm, not less the direction of cool prudence; if one or the other factor be omitted, disaster must ensue.
VI. SEASONABLE WORDS. (Proverbs 15:23.) We must consider not only the matter, but the manner, of our utterances. This requires "a mind at leisure from itself" to seize the happy opportunity, to refrain from introducing the jarring note, to turn the conversation when it threatens to strike on breakers. Oh, happy art! admirable and enviable in those that possess it, but cultivable by all who have the gentle heart. We cannot conceive that the conversations of Christ were ever other than thus seasonable.—J.
Religion and common sense
What is religion without common sense? Fanaticism, extravagance, and folly. What is common sense without religion? Dry, bald, uninspired and uninspiring worldliness. What are they united? The wisdom of both worlds, the wisdom of time and of eternity. Let. us look at some of their combined teachings.
I. TEACHINGS OF COMMON SENSE.
1. To avoid danger and death. (Proverbs 15:24.) This is obvious enough, but, unguided by religion, prudence may easily make mistakes.
2. To avoid unjust gains. (Proverbs 15:27.) Every advantage must be paid for, in some coin or other. Then, "is the game worth the candle?" Will a dishonest speculation, looked at on mere commercial principles, pay?
3. To be cautious in speech. (Proverbs 15:28.) Speech is the one thing that many think they have a right to squander. There is no more common profligacy than that of the tongue. Yet, is there anything of which experience teaches us to be more economical than the expense of the tongue?
4. To be generous of kind looks and words. (Proverbs 15:30.) What can cost less, or be worth, in many cases, more? "Good words," says George Herbert, "are worth much, and cost little."
5. To be a good listener. (Proverbs 15:31.) And this implies willingness to receive rebuke. All superior conversation in some way or other brings to light our ignorance and checks our narrowness. And just as he is not fit to govern who has not learned to serve, so only he who has long sat at the feet of the wise will be entitled himself to take his place among the wise. One of Socrates' disciples exclaimed that life indeed was to be found in listening to discourses like his. May we all feel the like in sitting at the feet of our Master, who commends those who have thus chosen the good part which shall never be taken away from them!
6. To avoid conceit and cultivate humility. (Proverbs 15:32.) It is the overestimate of self which makes us contemptuous in any sense towards others. But to look down as from a superior height on others is the most mischievous hindrance to progress in sense and knowledge. A mastermind of our times says that he hates to be praised in the newspapers, and begins to have some hope for himself when people find fault with him.
7. To found humility upon religion. (Proverbs 15:33.) Its only genuine and deep foundation. What are we in relation to the God whose perfection is revealed to us in nature, in the ideals of the soul, in the fulfilment of the living Person of Christ? From this depth only can we rise; for honour springs from a lowly root; and he that exalteth himself shall be abased.
II. TEACHINGS OF RELIGION. We have already seen how they blend with those of common sense. But let us bring them into their proper distinctiveness and force.
1. To choose the upward path and shun the downward. (Proverbs 15:24.) To cleave to God; to love him with mind, and heart, and soul, and strength; to be ever seeking the Divine meaning in the earthly objects, the Divine goal through the course of common events, the true, the beautiful, and the good, in their ineffable blending and unity in God;—this is the upward way. To be striving after emancipation from self, in all the coarser and grosser, in all the more refined and subtle forms of lust and greed,—this is the avoidance of hell and of the downward way. "Seeking those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God," implies and demands "the mortification of the members which are upon the earth."
2. To consider the judgments of God. (Proverbs 15:25, Proverbs 15:27.) There was a period in the ancient world when men thought of Divine power as blind caprice, fortune, fate, destiny, setting down and raising up whomsoever it would by no fixed moral law. It was a great revelation and a magnificent discovery when men saw that there was a law in the events of life, and this law none other than the holy will of Jehovah. One of the principles of his judgment is here set forth. Godless pride is obnoxious to his disapproval, and incurs extinction at his hands. But he is Compassion, and the poor and friendless, especially the widow, are certain of his protection. It is as if a charmed circle were drawn around her humble dwelling, and a Divine hand kept the fire glowing on her hearth.
3. To consider the religious aspect of thoughts and words. (Proverbs 15:26.) Words and thoughts are one, as the body and the soul. A great thinker, indeed, defined thought as talking to one's self—as all our words to others should, indeed, be as thought overheard. Thus we are thrown back on the heart, and the elementary maxims for its guidance in purity. Keep it with all diligence! But perhaps not less important is the reflex influence; for if bad words be scrupulously kept from the tongue, evil images will less readily arise in the heart.
4. To consider the conditions of access to God. (Proverbs 15:29.) He is a moral Being, and must be approached in a moral character and a moral mood. To suppose that he can be flattered with empty compliments or gifts, as if he were a barbarous Monarch and not a just God, is essentially superstitious. He is the Hearer of prayer, but only of the just man's prayer. To the aspiration of the pious soul never fails the inspiration of the holy God. But of the bad heart it must ever be true, "The words fly up, the thoughts remain below." Thus to view all life's relations in God is both "the beginning of wisdom" and "the conclusion of the whole matter."—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The soft answer
This text has been on the lips of many thousands of people since it was first penned, and has probably helped many thousands of hearts to win an honourable and acceptable victory.
I. THE FACT WHICH CONFRONTS US; viz. that in this life which we are living we must expect a large measure of misunderstanding. "It is impossible but that offences will come." With all our various and complex relationships; with all that we are expecting and requiring of one another in thought, word, and deed; with the limitations to which we are subject both in mind and in spirit;—how could it be otherwise? A certain considerable measure of mistake, and of consequent vexation, and of consequent anger, will arise, as we play our part in this world. Occasions will arise when our neighbours, when our friends, when our near relatives, will speak to us with displeasure in their hearts, and with annoyance, if not anger, in their tone. This we must lay our account with.
II. THE TEMPTATION WHICH ASSAILS US. This is to a resentment which utters itself in "grievous words." Anger provokes anger and makes it angrier still; vexation grows rote positive bitterness, and bitterness ends in miserable strife. Thus the "little fire" will "kindle a great matter;" thus a spark becomes a flame, and sometimes a flame becomes a fire and even a conflagration, Many a feud may be traced back to the utterance of a few hasty words, which might have been met and quieted by a pacific answer, if they had fallen on patient and wise ears.
III. THE BEARING WHICH BECOMES US. To return "the soft answer." It does become us, because:
1. This is the true victory over our own spirit (see homily on Proverbs 16:32).
2. It is also the worthiest victory over the man who provokes us. We "turn away wrath;" and how much nobler a thing it is to win by kindness than to crush by severity!
3. It is to render an essential service to many beside the actual spokesman. When one man starts a quarrel, a great many suffer on both sides. And when one man quenches a quarrel, he saves many from misery (and perhaps from sin) into which they would otherwise fall (see 8:1-3).
4. It is to act in accordance with the will and the example of our Lord.—C.
God's searching glance
The text, with others treating of the same subject, assures us, concerning the Divine notice of us, that—
I. IT IS ABSOLUTELY UNIVERSAL. The eyes of the Lord are "in every place." There is no secret place, however screened from the sight of man, which is not "naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (see Psalms 139:1-24; Jeremiah 23:24; Hebrews 4:13).
II. IT IS CONSTANT. Absolutely unintermitted, day and night; through youth and age; in prosperity end in adversity; under all imaginable conditions.
III. IT IS THOROUGH. Penetrating to the innermost sanctuary of the soul, searching its most secret places, "discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart;" discovering
IV. IT IS TO BE FEARED BY THE REBELLIOUS AND THE DISOBEDIENT.
1. Those who are living and are purposing to live in the commission of some flagrant sin.
2. Those who are deliberately rejecting the authority and disregarding the merciful overtures of God in Jesus Christ.
3. And also those who are continually postponing the hour of decision and of return to their allegiance. These souls may fear to think that the eye of the Holy One is continually upon them; or they may be ashamed as they think that the eye of the appealing and disappointed Saviour is regarding them.
V. IT IS TO BE COURTED BY THE TRUE AND FAITHFUL.
1. The hearts that are turning toward a Divine Redeemer may be encouraged to believe that his glance of kind encouragement is upon them.
2. The hearts that are surrendering themselves to Christ in faith and love may fill with peace and rest as they are assured of his acceptance (Matthew 11:28-30; John 5:24; John 6:46, John 6:47).
3. The hearts that, in his holy service, are honestly and earnestly striving to follow and to honour him and to do his work may be glad with a pure, well founded joy as they count on his precious regard, his loving approval. To these it will be a perpetual delight that the "eyes of the Lord are in every place," beholding every human heart and. every human life.—C.
Proverbs 15:8, Proverbs 15:9
With whom God is pleased
With whom is God well pleased? A great question, that has had many answers. The statement of the text gives us—
I. GOD'S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE WICKED.
1. Their whole life is grievous to him. "The way of the wicked is an abomination," etc. And this, not because they hold some erroneous opinions, nor because they make many serious mistakes, nor because they are betrayed into occasional transgressions; but because they determinately withhold themselves from his service; because they claim and exercise the right to dispose of their own life according to their own will; because they deliberately disregard the will of God. They are thus in a state of fixed rebellion against his rule, of settled disavowal of his claims upon them, of consequent neglect of his holy Law. Therefore their entire course or "way" is one of disobedience and disloyalty; it must be painful, grievous, even "abominable" in the sight of the Holy One.
2. Their worship is wholly unacceptable to him. If we "regard iniquity is our heart, the Lord will not hear us" (Psalms 50:16-22; Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 1:15). God "desireth truth in the inward parts;" he cannot and will not accept as of any value whatever the offering that comes from a heart in a state of determined disloyalty to himself and hatred of his law.
3. Their worship is positively offensive. It is "an abomination" unto him. And it is so, because:
II. GOD'S PLEASURE WITH THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. Who they are.
2. With what, in them, God is well pleased.
The certainty of God's notice
First we have—
I. THE DIFFICULTY SUGGESTED. It is not unnatural to ask—Does God in very deed take notice of such beings as we are? does he condescend to watch the workings of our mind? are the flitting thoughts that cross our brain, the fugitive feelings that pass through our weak human hearts, within the range of his observation? Is that worth his while? Are they not beyond the pale of his Divine regard?
II. THE ARGUMENT FROM SECRECY. If "Sheol" is before the Lord, if that region of darkness were "the light (itself) is as darkness," if the place of mystery and shadow is within his Divine regard, how much more are those who are living in the light of day, on whom the sunshine falls, who live their life openly beneath the heavens! The writer evidently felt that there was nothing so particularly hidden or secret about the mind of man. And we may well argue that there is nothing inscrutably hidden within our hearts; for do we not read, continually and correctly, the minds of our children? We know what they think and feel. And if their minds are open to us, how much more must our minds—the minds of the children of men—be "naked and open" to our heavenly Father! If our superior intelligence supplies us with the key to their secrets, what does not Omniscience know of us, even of those thoughts and motives we are most anxious to conceal?
III. THE ARGUMENT FROM UNATTRACTIVENESS. "Abaddon [destruction] is before the Lord." That which has no manner of interest in itself, that from which Benevolence would willingly turn its eyes, that which is repelling to the sight of love and life,—that even is before God; he never ceases to regard a scene so utterly uninviting. How much more, then, will he regard the hearts of his own offspring! There is nothing beneath the skies so interesting to him. What has the most charm to us in our home? Surely not any furniture or any treasures, however rare, or costly, or beautiful these may be. It is our children; it is their hearts of love for which we care. It is to them that we come home in joyful expectation. It is on them our eye rests with benignity and delight. So with our Divine Father. He does look on all the furniture of this wonderful home in which we dwell (Psalms 104:31); he ever has before him the sphere and scene of destruction; but that which draws his eye of tender interest and kindly pity and holy love is the heart of his sons and daughters. We are poor and needy, but we are all his offspring, and "the Lord thinketh upon us."
1. With what parental grief does he look upon
2. With what parental satisfaction does he view
Proverbs 15:13, Proverbs 15:15-17
The source of satisfaction
I. THAT THERE SOMETIMES RESTS A LONG AND DEEP SHADOW ON THE PATH OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. Sometimes a long one. "All the days of the afflicted are evil." They are not a few who have to make up their minds for many months or years of separation or pain, or even for a lifelong trouble. They know that they will carry their burden to the grave.
2. Sometimes a deep one. "By sorrow of heart the spirit is broken." The burden is greater than the spirit can bear, it breaks beneath it; the heart is simply overwhelmed; all hope has died out, all gladness is gone from the life, all light from the countenance, all elasticity from the step; the hear; is fairly broken.
II. THAT FAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES CANNOT COMMAND SATISFACTION TO THE SPIRIT.
1. Wealth will not do it. Great treasure often means great trouble (Proverbs 15:16); shares and stocks often bring as much burden as blessing with them; he who piles gold on his counter may be heaping anxiety upon his heart.
2. Sumptuous fare will fail (Proverbs 15:17). All the delicacies that can be spread upon the fable will not give enjoyment to him that has a restless spirit, or a secret that he knows he cannot hide, or a debt he knows he cannot meet, or a bounden duty he knows he has neglected.
III. THAT HAPPINESS MUST BE HEART DEEP, OR IT IS NOTHING. (Proverbs 15:13.) If it is not the merry heart that produces the cheerful countenance, the smile can very well be spared, both by him who smiles and by those who are in his presence. Few things are sadder to hear then hollow laughter, or to see than a forced and weary smile.
IV. THAT A CHEERFUL SPIRIT IS A VALUABLE BESTOWMENT. (Proverbs 15:15.) Better than the large estate or the high position, or the influential circle, is the buoyant spirit which
"Ever with a frolic welcome lakes
The thunder and the sunshine."
V. THAT A LOVING SPIRIT IS A STILL GREATER GIFT OF GOD. "Where love is," there is peace and there is joy, however mean the home or slight the fare. He who carries with him to every table and every hearth a loving spirit is a friend of God's own sending; he is "the welcome guest;" he has a treasure in his breast which no coffers will supply.
VI. THAT PIETY IS THE ALL-COMPENSATING GOOD.
1. It makes the poor man rich—"rich in faith," "rich toward God," rich with a wealth which "no thief can steal."
2. It brings comfort to the sorrowful, and introduces that Divine Physician who can bind up the broken heart, and heal its wounds.
3. It speaks of a heavenly portion to those who have no hope of deliverance here; there may be "affliction all the days" of life (Proverbs 15:15), but "the righteous hath hope in his death" (Proverbs 14:32). Blessed, then, is he in whose heart is "the fear of the Lord."—C.
God's distance from us and nearness to us
"The Lord is far from the wicked;" and yet how near to us! "He is not far from any one of us;" "He compasses us behind and before, and layeth his hand upon us." We may, indeed, insist upon—
I. GOD'S LOCAL AND EFFECTIVE NEARNESS TO THE WICKED AN AGGRAVATION OF THEIR GUILT. The fact that "in him they do live, and move, and have their being," that by his operative presence they are momently sustained in being, that by the working of his hand around and upon them they are supplied with all their comfort, and filled with all their joys,—this great fact makes more heinous the guilt of forgetfulness of God, of indifference to his will, of rebellion against his rule. But the truth of the text is—
II. GOD'S DISTANCE IN SYMPATHY AND IN SPIRIT FROM THE WICKED. God is far from the wicked in that:
1. He is utterly out of sympathy with them in all their thought and feeling, in their tastes and inclinations, in their likings and dislikings. tie hates what they love; he is infinitely repelled from that which they are drawn to.
2. He regards them with a serious Divine displeasure. He is "angry with the wicked every day." His "soul finds no pleasure in them." He is grieved with them; in his holy add loving heart there is the pain of strong parental disapproval.
3. He is practically inaccessible to them. It is only he "that has clean hands and a pure heart" who is free to draw nigh unto God. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination" unto him (see homily on Proverbs 15:8). God cannot hear us if we "regard iniquity in our hearts;" we virtually withdraw ourselves from him, we place a terrible spiritual distance between our Creator and ourselves, when we take up an attitude of disloyalty toward him, or when we abandon ourselves to any evil course. Yet let it be always kept in mind, that:
4. To the penitent and believing he is always near; in whatever far country the wayward son is living, he may address himself immediately to his heavenly Father.
III. GOD'S SYMPATHETIC NEARNESS TO HIS CHILDREN. "He heareth the prayer of the righteous." Those who are earnestly desirous of serving God, of following Jesus Christ, may be assured:
1. Of his actual and observant nearness to them when they approach him in prayer.
2. Of his tender and loving interest in them (Mark 10:21).
3. Of his acceptance of themselves when they offer their hearts and lives to him and his service.
4. Of his purpose to answer their various requests in such ways and times as he knows to be best for them.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany