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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Proverbs 20



Verse 4



Proverbs 20:4. The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold: therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.

ARGUMENTS from analogy, when the analogy itself is just, are easy of apprehension, and well calculated to convince the mind: and one distinguished excellence of the Book of Proverbs is. that it abounds with such arguments: and without any formal statement of premises and conclusions, presents the truth to us in short, sententious aphorisms, that are plain, obvious, incontrovertible. Whoever has made the least observation on human affairs, must have seen the evil consequences of neglecting our proper business in life, whether in husbandry, or trade, or any other line: and it is easy to infer from thence, that similar consequences must attend a neglect of our Christian duties. Nor is it necessary that this analogy should be always pointed out to us: the whole scope of that divinely inspired book naturally leads us to make a spiritual improvement of the hints, which, in their literal sense, apply only to the things of this life.

Let us then in this view consider,

I. The sluggard’s conduct—

The duties both of the husbandman and the Christian require industry—

[It was a part of the curse introduced by sin, that man should obtain his bread by the sweat of his brow: nor will the earth yield us any thing but briers and thorns. unless we bestow much pains in the cultivation of it. Our attention to it must be unremitted: it is not the labour of a month or a year that will suffice: we must repeat again and again the same processes, in order to guard against the noxious weeds that would overrun it, and cherish the good seed, which we want it to produce. Thus also must the Christian exert himself in order to bring forth the fruits of righteousness. His heart is prolific in what is evil, but barren in what is good: he must therefore daily counteract its natural propensities, and foster the holy desires that have been sown in it. The same work of repentance and faith must be continually renewed, till the Lord himself shall come to gather in his harvest.]

Yet are we ever ready to neglect our work on frivolous pretences—

[A regard to temporal interest will often overcome men’s natural sloth, and excite them to diligence in their several vocations. Yet are there many instances, where the indulgence of sloth makes men blind to their own happiness, and deaf to the cries of their distressed families. With respect to spiritual concerns, an indisposition to labour universally prevails. The work of the soul is irksome and difficult; and every one either deems it altogether unnecessary, or desires to defer it as long as possible. But it is observable that the sluggard does not absolutely say, “I hate my work, and therefore will not do it;” much less does he say, “I am determined never to plough at all:” but he finds some excuse for neglecting what he is averse to perform; and fixes on some plea, which, in certain circumstances and to a certain extent, might be sufficient. Thus the Christian does not say, “I hate repentance and faith in Christ; much less does he resolve never to repent and believe: but he always has some reason at hand for deferring this unpleasant work, and promises himself a more convenient season, before the time for ploughing; be entirely passed away. He has the cares of a family, or a pressure of business, or something that serves him for an excuse: but, upon examination, it will either be found a mere excuse, or a reason, on which he lays a very improper stress; making use of it to justify a total and habitual neglect, when, at the most, it would only account for a partial and occasional omission. But as a husbandman who should yield to such a disposition, is denominated by God himself, “a sluggard,” so we are sure, that he, who on such frivolous pretexts intermits his Christian duties, will receive no better appellation at the day of judgment than that of a “wicked and slothful servant.”]

But in whomsoever such conduct is found, he will at last have reason to deplore,

II. The consequences of it—

As industry and wealth, so idleness and want, are very closely connected—

[Circumstances occur in this world to interrupt the natural operation of causes and effects: but in general, where any man’s subsistence depends upon his labour, the consequences of sloth or activity will be such as might be expected. In spiritual things the rule is absolute and invariable. Every man’s progress will be according to his labour. Some indeed may enjoy more of comfort than others, from other causes than their own diligence: but every person’s real proficiency in grace will be proportioned to the improvement he makes of the talents committed to him: without detracting at all from the grace of God, we may safely affirm, that the difference between one Christian and another in respect of victory over sin, and happiness in the divine life, must be traced in a very great measure to their different degrees of watchfulness in secret duties.]

This truth however will not appear in its full extent till the day of judgment—

[At the time of harvest the care or negligence of the husbandman will very clearly appear; and, if we should suppose a man to have wholly neglected the cultivation of his fields, he would find himself destitute, while others were satiated with abundance: nor, if he were reduced to beggary, would he find any one to pity his forlorn condition. But his situation, deplorable as it would be, is not to be compared with that of a negligent Christian in the day of judgment. He will see others reaping a glorious harvest, while he is not permitted even to glean an ear: he will behold others “crowned with glory and honour and immortality.” while nothing remains for him but “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” The foolish virgins, who slept while they should have been procuring oil for their lamps, came and pleaded in vain for admittance, when the door was once shut against them: none but the wise virgins were suffered to participate the nuptial feast. In the same manner, the Rich Man, who lived only to the flesh, sought in vain for one drop of water to mitigate his anguish, while Lazarus, who had lived to nobler purposes, had a fulness of joy in Abraham’s bosom. Thus also will it be with all, when the great harvest shall arrive: they, who had improved their season of grace, will be partakers of glory; while they, who had wasted it in sloth and self-indulgence, will reap the fruits of their folly, in deserved shame, in perpetual want, in unalleviated, unpitied, everlasting misery.]


1. Let us, in the view of this subject, take shame to ourselves—

[How long has our season of grace been protracted: and what little improvement have we made of it! How apt are we to yield to sloth, and to defer the most important of all duties on slight and frivolous pretences, which we know beforehand will never satisfy our Judge! But what can ever equal this folly? A sluggard in temporal things may find some one to pity his distress; and may learn from his experience to amend. But who will ever pity the self-ruined sinner? Or what further opportunity for amendment will be afforded him? Let us then begin, and prosecute without remission, the work of our souls. Let us “plow up the fallow ground, and sow in righteousness,” knowing assuredly, that “the diligent hand shall make us rich,” and that, “if we sow in tears we shall reap in joy.”]

2. Let us look forward with earnestness to the future harvest—

[The husbandman waits with patience, in expectation that the harvest will compensate his labours. And will not our harvest repay all the exertions we can use, and all the self-denial we can exercise? Let us then put forth all the energies of our souls in preparing for that day. Let us not suffer any difficulties or discouragements to abate our ardour; but “whatever our our hand findeth to do, let us do it with our might,” “and so much the more as we see the day approaching.”]

Verse 6



Proverbs 20:6. Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find?

IF we were to apply to every individual of mankind for his own character, and to form our estimate of the world from the aggregate report, we should soon find, that self-knowledge is a rare attainment, and that men are but partial judges in their own cause. Hence it is, that the more intercourse we have with the world, the more we learn to distrust the professions of men, and to suspend our judgment of them, till we have more substantial ground whereon to form it. Some indeed, from seeing unsuspecting youth so often become a prey to designing men, and frankness and candour so often fall a sacrifice to deceit and treachery, have been led almost to expel charity from their hearts, and practically to reverse its most established laws. Charity would require that we believe every man honest, till we have evidence to the contrary: but they exempt no man from their suspicions, till a full experience of his integrity has constrained them to revere his character. But between the extremes of blind confidence and uncharitable suspicion, there is a medium, a cautious reserve, which prudence dictates, and religion approves. Such a reserve seems naturally, and as it were necessarily, to result from the observation in our text; an observation humiliating indeed to our proud nature, but justified by the actual state of mankind in all ages; and fitly calculated to guard us against an undue confidence either in ourselves or others.

This observation we shall confirm, by shewing,

I. That a profession of goodness is common—

The virtues of truth, honour, integrity, benevolence, friendship, liberality, are claimed by every one as the inherent and characteristic qualities of his heart: and even piety itself is, if men’s opinions of themselves be true, an inmate of every bosom. “Goodness” is not only approved by all, but claimed as the property of all:

1. Of the profane—

[They do not indeed boast of their goodness; they will say, as hypocrites do, that ‘they are as good as their neighbours. It is true, they are not always quite so correct in their conduct as they might be; yea, they are sometimes betrayed into follies which they cannot justify: but they mean no harm; they injure nobody; they have good intentions, good dispositions, good hearts’ — — —The fruit is bad, they acknowledge: but they will have it, that the tree is good.]

2. Of the moral—

[These have some more pretensions to goodness, it may be thought: but their estimate of their own character is scarcely less erroneous than the judgment of the profane. They are observant of many duties; and oftentimes are really eminent for honour and integrity in their dealings. But they omit from their catalogue of duties all that pertains to the spiritual life, and content themselves with a system of heathen ethics. Humility and contrition, faith and love, heavenly-mindedness, and communion with God, are scarcely considered by them as forming any part of true goodness: on the contrary, they allow themselves in self-esteem, self-preference, self-righteousness, and self-dependence; and, when full of these hateful dispositions, they will be “thanking God (with the Pharisee) that they are not as other men [Note: Luke 18:11],” and will, in the habit of their minds at least, say to a repenting publican, “Stand off; come not near to me; I am holier than thou [Note: Isaiah 65:5.].” Of these St. Paul says, that “they have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof [Note: 2 Timothy 2:5.].”]

3. Of the unsound professor—

[No one stands higher in his own conceit, than the person who has learned to talk about the Gospel, but not to practise its precepts. Because he has a zeal for some religious tenets, or for his own particular party in the Church, he is ready to conclude himself a true, perhaps an eminent, Christian; though his religion is seated altogether in his head, and has never descended to his heart. He never stops to inquire into his spirit and conduct, or to examine whether his tempers and dispositions accord with those of Christ. It is highly probable that he is guilty of very shameful neglect in many of his social and domestic duties: as a master he is proud and imperious; as a servant, inattentive and impatient of rebuke; as a parent, remiss in the instruction of his family; as a child, wilful and disobedient to his parents; in conversation, censorious; in dealings, unfaithful; and in the whole of his demeanor, conceited, forward, petulant, morose. Yet behold, this man, because he can talk about religion, arrogates to himself the title of good. Truly this man, whatever he may think of himself, belongs to “the generation that are pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness [Note: Proverbs 30:12.].” He “professes to know God; but in works denies him [Note: Titus 1:16.].”]

But however common a profession of goodness may be, it must be confessed,

II. That a life suited to this profession is very rare—

We have seen what opinion we should form of the world, if we implicitly received men’s record of themselves. But, if we apply to those who have been most conversant with the world, what shall we think of it then? Will they not tell us, that scarce any man is at all to be trusted, where his own interests are at stake: that it is scarcely possible to have dealings in any branch of commerce without meeting with numberless frauds and impositions: and that, if you rely on men’s professions of disinterestedness and friendship, you will, as soon as you come into any great trouble, find yourself in the predicament of one, “who has a broken tooth, or a foot out of joint [Note: Proverbs 25:19.];” being not only deceived in your expectations of succour, but deriving great pain from your endeavours to obtain it?

Even in reference to these virtues to which all lay claim, and to be destitute of which they would account it the greatest disgrace, we may apply that humiliating question, “A faithful man who can find?” We must not indeed understand this question as importing that no such person can be found: but only, that there are very few. But we must not limit the question to mere heathen virtues: we must extend it to all the obligations, which, as Christians, we acknowledge. Who then is faithful,

1. To his principles?

[As Christians, we profess to lie low before God, to live by faith on his dear Son, to devote ourselves unreservedly to his service, and to seek our happiness in communion with God. But where are they whose lives correspond with these professions? Are they not so few, that they are even “signs and wonders upon earth?” — — — As for the generality, they will commend departed saints, but revile and persecute the living ones: they will applaud goodness in general, but decry and discourage it in its most exalted particulars.]

2. To his promises?

[In our baptism we all promised to “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” When we were confirmed, we renewed these promises, and confirmed, by our own personal consent, the engagements that had been before made in our behalf. If we have attended at the Lord’s Supper, we there also solemnly dedicated unto God ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice to him; to be employed in his service, and, if he see fit, to be consumed for his glory. And how have we fulfilled these promises? Has the world been under our feet? Have all the desires of the flesh been mortified? Have the service and enjoyment of God been the one business of our lives? — — —]

3. To his convictions?

[There is no one so thoughtless or obdurate, but he has at some times a conviction arising in his mind, that he ought to repent, and turn to God, and to stand ready for death and judgment. Even the most advanced Christians feel many secret reproofs in their consciences, and are constrained to acknowledge, that they should be more meek and humble, more earnest and vigilant, more pure and spiritual. But who is faithful to his convictions? Who makes the advances that he ought, or the advances that he might? — — —]

Let us learn then from this subject,

1. To be jealous over ourselves—

[If there be so much self-deceit in the world, who are we, that we should be altogether free from it? Have not we a great measure of self-love within us, as well as others? Are not we liable to be biassed in our judgment by passion and interest? and is not our heart, no less than the hearts of others, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked?” Surely we have need to tremble, when we hear God saying to us, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, and the end thereof are the ways of death [Note: Proverbs 14:12.]:” and again, “That which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God [Note: Luke 16:15.].” Let us then be on our guard against the overweening conceit of our own goodness: let us bring ourselves to the touchstone of God’s word: and let us beg of God to “search and try us, to see if there be any wicked way in us; and to lead us in the way everlasting [Note: Psalms 139:23-24.].” “Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].”]

2. To seek the influences of God’s grace—

[It is no easy matter to be a Christian indeed, “an Israelite without guile.” We may be free from gross sin, and yet far enough from that state in which we ought to be. Our own efforts (so to speak) may suffice to “keep the outside clean;” but who, except God, can cleanse the heart? None, but he who formed the universe at first, can create our souls anew: nor unless “chosen and called by him,” shall we ever be found “faithful” in the last day [Note: Revelation 17:14.]. Let us, under a full conviction of our own insufficiency, cry mightily unto him; that he would “put a new spirit within us, and cause us to keep his statutes and his commandments, to do them [Note: Ezekiel 36:26-27].” It is “he who must work all our works in us;” it is he alone that can make us “sincere and without offence until the day of Christ!”]

3. To value and trust in the righteousness of Christ—

[Who amongst us would dare to found his hopes of salvation on his own faithfulness? Who is not sensible that he has, in instances without number, been unfaithful to his principles, his promises, and his convictions? If we presumed to stand on that ground, God would say, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.” But, if we were not conscious of any unfaithfulness, we still could not venture to make that the foundation of our hopes; because we are so ignorant of ourselves, and so prone to self-deceit. We could even then only say with the Apostle, “I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord:” yes. we must then cast ourselves altogether on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Let this then be done by every one of us: and, instead of proclaiming every one his own goodness, let us all humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes, and say with the Church of old, “In the Lord alone have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24.].”]

Verse 9



Proverbs 20:9. Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?

THE great characteristic of the Proverbs is wisdom; as that of the Psalms is piety. They were the result of much thought and observation: and the instructions contained in them were such as a father might be supposed to give to his children. Occasionally, however, according as his mind had been occupied, the tenour of his observations was varied; and they assumed, what may be rather called, a vein of piety. We suppose, that, when he penned the passage before us, he had been led into some unexpected discovery of the corruptions of his own heart; and from thence had been drawn to contemplate in a more extended view the general depravity of human nature, not merely as evinced by the ungodly, but as manifested by the remains of sin in the most eminent saints. However this may be, his observation is deep, and of singular importance. It is a challenge to the whole world, to find, if they can, a perfect man. Let us consider,

I. The truth that is here intimated—

There have been, and yet are, persons in the Church of Christ who boast of sinless perfection. But they are awfully deluded. In order to maintain their favourite system, they reduce exceedingly the requirements of God’s law; they deny many things to be sin, which most assuredly are sin; and, after all, they shut their eyes against many things which they know to be sinful in their own hearts and lives, but which they will not acknowledge to be sinful, lest they should overturn the system which they are anxious to defend. But it is a certain truth, that no man is sinless in this world. And this appears,

1. From express declarations of Holy Writ—

[Both the Old Testament and the New concur to establish this truth. Solomon, at his dedication of the temple, expressly asserted, that “there was no man that lived and sinned not [Note: 1 Kings 8:46.]:” and more strongly does he elsewhere affirm, that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:20.].” To this agree also the testimonies of the inspired Apostles: St. John says, that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us [Note: 1 John 1:8-10.];” and St. James says, that “in many things we offend all [Note: James 3:2.].” The whole Scripture uniformly attests this awful truth.]

2. From such instances as are undeniable—

[Among the most distinguished of God’s people, were Abraham, and Moses, and Hezekiah, and Paul: yet all of these, even when they had arrived at the summit of human excellence, fell into sin. Abraham, purely through fear, twice denied his own wife, and thereby subjected her and others to temptations, which might have issued in the everlasting destruction of their souls. Moses, the meekest man upon the face of the earth, gave way to wrath, whereby he provoked God to exclude him from the earthly Canaan. Hezekiah, than whom no man upon the whole ever more honoured God, yet yielded to pride and creature-confidence, when he shewed all his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon. And Paul, after he had preached for twenty years, and attained an eminence in the divine life, not inferior to that of any of the children of men, was so carried away by his own spirit under a sudden trial and temptation, that he reviled God’s High Priest, which he himself acknowledged to be a violation of an express command. Who then, after viewing these, will “say, that he is pure from sin?”]

3. From the confessions of God’s most eminent saints—

[Job, previous to his trials, was pronounced by God “a perfect man;” yet, after his trials, confessed, “Behold, I am vile!” Paul occupies a whole chapter in his epistle to the Romans in describing the internal conflicts of his mind; sin and grace mutually striving to overpower each other, and disabling him from fully vanquishing the one, or carrying into effect the dictates of the other. “In his flesh,” he says, “dwelt no good thing:” but there was, notwithstanding all the attainments of his renewed mind, “a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members.” Will any other then of the children of men say, “I am pure from all sin?” From the dominion of sin every saint may affirm that he is freed; yea, and from the wilful and allowed indulgence of any. David justly appeals to God respecting his perfect freedom from sin, as to any intention and purpose to commit it [Note: Psalms 17:3.]; as Job also does respecting the extinction of its reigning power: “Thou knowest, that I am not wicked [Note: Job 10:7.].” But, if any man should go farther, and say, that sin was not still living within him, and operating occasionally to the polluting of his soul, he must stand self-convicted, and self-condemned; just as Job has said, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse [Note: Job 9:20; Job 9:30-31.].”]

Such being the state of our fallen nature, it becomes us to consider,

II. The improvement we should make of it—

This truth should never be lost sight of for one moment: it should regulate every feeling of the heart: it should never cease to call forth and to augment,

1. Our humiliation—

[We are sinful creatures at the best; and are in the situation of wretched captives, who, having a dead body fastened to them, were compelled to drag it about, till they themselves were destroyed by its pestilential vapours [Note: See what is said of Mezentius in Virgil; ζ. lib. viii. l. 485–488.] — — — This, it must be acknowledged, is a most humiliating truth, and not unfitly expressed in the general Confession of our Liturgy, “There is no health in us.” Hence, when we are taught to “lothe ourselves for our iniquities and our abominations,” we must remember that it is not for the actions only that are long since past, but for the taint also which they have left behind them, that this self-abasement is necessary. So Job thought [Note: Job 42:6.], and so Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 6:5.], and so Paul [Note: Romans 7:24.]: and, if we know ourselves aright, we shall find no terms more suited to express our real state, than those in which the prophet Isaiah described the Jews of his day; “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint: from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores [Note: Isaiah 1:5-6.].”]

2. Our watchfulness—

[A magazine wherein there was a large store of combustible matter that might produce extensive injury by an explosion, would be guarded with all possible care: and can any care be too great, when we consider how many thousand things there are on every side ready to kindle a destructive flame in our hearts, and how incessantly our great adversary is striving to make use of them for our destruction? We know not what a day or an hour may bring forth. We may be as far from thinking of evil as at any moment of our lives, and yet evil may arise from some unexpected quarter, and produce upon us the most painful consequences. We are never safe for one moment, but whilst we are upheld in the arms of our Almighty Friend. We should therefore be continually crying to him, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not!” at the same time that we should be striving continually to “put off the old man, and to put on the new.” This is the advice given us by our Lord himself; “Watch, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:” for however “willing the spirit be” to approve itself to God, “the flesh is weak.”]

3. Our gratitude—

[What a miracle of mercy is it, that, with so much corruption about us, we are preserved in any measure from dishonouring our holy profession! The wonder is not that any fall, but that any are “kept from falling.” And to whom is it owing that any of us are enabled to maintain our steadfastness in the divine life? is it to ourselves? No: Peter shews us, what we should soon be, if left to ourselves: Satan would soon “sift us all as wheat,” if our blessed Saviour did not intercede for us, and give us fresh supplies of grace and strength [Note: Luke 22:31-32.]. Let us then be sensible of our great and unbounded obligations to Him, who has said, that “he keepeth the feet of his saints.” Let us bear in mind to whom it is owing, that, notwithstanding the bush is ever burning, it is yet unconsumed: and let us give all the glory of our stability to God, saying with David, “My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord [Note: Psalms 26:12.].”]

4. Our love to Christ—

[Notwithstanding in ourselves we are so corrupt, in Christ we are accepted, and beloved of the Lord. Washed in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness, we are presented unto the Father “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; yea, holy, and without blemish.” O! how “precious” ought this Saviour to be to all our souls! How continually should we go to him, and plunge beneath “the fountain of his blood, which was opened for sin and for uncleanness,” and which is able to “cleanse us from all sin!” How should we delight ourselves in him, and “cleave to him,” and “glory in him,” and devote ourselves to him! Yes, Brethren, this is the tribute which we owe to our blessed Lord. We must “not continue in sin, that grace may abound,” but turn from sin because grace has abounded; and, “because He has bought us with the inestimable price of his own blood, we should strive to glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his. [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.]”]


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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 20:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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