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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Proverbs 17

 

 

Verse 1

Proverbs 17:1

Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.

The maker and breaker of a family’s peace

Truth sweetens the relations of life; falsehood eats like rust into their core. When they live in love, men meet each other softly and kindly, as the eyelids meet. Envy casts grains of sand between the two, and under each. Every movement then sends a shooting pain through all the body, and makes the salt tears flow. So good are peace and love for human kind, that with them a family will be happy, though they have nothing else in the world; and without them miserable, although they have the whole world at their command. A dinner of herbs and a stalled ox indicate the two extremes--humble poverty on the one side and pampered luxury on the other. When love leaves the family circle, it is no longer a piece of God’s own handiwork, and there is no security for safety in any of its motions. Love is the element in which all its relations are set, for softness and safety; and when it has evaporated, nothing remains but that each member of the house should be occupied in mounting a miserable guard over his own interests, and against the anticipated contact of the rest. In that dislocated house, each dreads all, and all dread each. Some rich families live in love, and doubly enjoy their abundance: some poor families quarrel over their herbs. Riches cannot secure happiness, and poverty cannot destroy it. Whether it be husband or wife, parent or child, master or servant, the disturber of a house must answer to its almighty Protector for abusing His gifts, and thwarting His gracious designs. (W. Arnot, D. D.)


Verses 1-28

Verse 3

Proverbs 17:3

The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts.

God’s fining pot and furnace

The text is a parabolical description of God’s almighty power and wisdom, for the discovery and reformation of the closest, and subtlest, and perfectest thing in the world, which is the heart of man.

I. The proposition. First part of the verse. The metals mentioned are silver and gold. The instruments are the fining pot and the furnace. Good men are like gold and silver in sundry regards.

1. From the solidity and substantialness of their principles.

2. From the purity and sincerity of their conversation.

3. From the splendour of their example.

Their hearts are like gold and silver, but it is like gold and silver in the ore, which has a great deal of dross mixed with it, and must be separated from it by God’s instruments of purification. The “fining pot” represents the Word of God, the “furnace” represents the rod of God, or affliction. The furnace is not for the hurt of the gold, but for its advantage. Labour to be bettered by every hand of God upon us, that so therein we may close with His gracious ends.

II. The reddition. “But the Lord trieth the hearts.” This adversative particle hath a threefold emphasis in it.

1. An emphasis of proportion. Taking “but” for “so.” The Lord is no less able or careful to try the hearts of the sons of men than the goldsmith is his silver and gold. God tries the heart either in a way of discovery or of purification. He tries them so as to discern them, and make known what they are. This kind of trial has two seasons, this present time and the world to come. He tries them to purge them, and remove their corruptions from them. This He does out of love to themselves, that He may make them vessels of honour. In reference to their works, that they may bring forth more fruit. For the sake of others.

2. An emphasis of exception. As restraining the skill of the refiner in this particular. He may be able to refine his metals, but he cannot try the heart.

3. An emphasis of appropriation. “The Lord trieth the hearts,” i.e., the Lord alone does it. This is His prerogative. None other can try the heart thus authoritatively, and none can try it so effectually. (T. Horton, D. D.)

Heart tests

The chemical analyst has different tests for different poisons. If he suspect the presence of arsenic, he will use one thing to detect that; if he is looking for antimony, he will take another to discover that; if he is trying for strychnine, he will employ quite another to bring that to light. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Religious lessons from metallurgy

To get the dross out of us, this is the sovereign aim of our training in this world. In education the main purpose is to free the mental faculties of the dross of sloth and prejudice. In active life the great success is in confirming the fibre of energy and character. In higher relations the object of the Almighty is to burn out the dross of the spirit and make us noble and pure. What is dross in human character? Suppose you are inclined to avarice, the excessive love of money. If you think of your own character as strengthened, made better, do you think of that quality of avarice as untouched? Do you think of it as stronger than it is now? Or do you think of it as weaker, as melted down in part, and poured off from your soul like scum? Now consider profanity, levity, intemperance, lust, moral sluggishness, vanity, haughtiness, insolence of words or manners, irreverence, rebellion in feeling against Providence--translate these into natural language, into the language of metals and the crucible, what are they?--valuable elements or foul ones, dross or gold? But take the converse qualities--reverence, purity, zeal for good, aspiration, generous use of money, the spirit of sacrifice, charity, devotion to the will of God--how do you represent these in your imagination? You say at once these are the precious elements of human nature and human life. These are the pure silver and gold of the moral world. Now, God is seeking to bring out these qualities into greater concentration and prominence by His moral government. Left to ourselves, to the wandering, undirected impulses of our constitution, mentally and morally, we should always be in the ore state. The hardships of life, the tough conditions that surround the attainment of truth and the training of character, are God’s reducing and refining processes. I do not mean to maintain here that all the hard conditions of life can be explained by this figure, or by any figure or theory of man’s device. But a world without hardships to such beings as we are would be a far worse, a far more disastrous world than the present. What would a ton of ore, taken out in one slab, be likely to say if it could be conscious, when carried to the batteries of the mill, and then washed for gold, and roasted to drive off sulphur, and pounded again, and mixed with quicksilver, and heated once more to drive off the mercury, and melted again into a mixed bar, and assayed, and still once more melted and granulated into cold water, and then gnawed by nitric acid, to take up the silver and leave the gold as sediment, and then precipitated from the acid as pure silver powder, and washed, and packed into cakes by hydraulic presses to squeeze the water out of it, and melted again in bars, and run through rollers, and punched, and milled, and stamped--thus becoming fit to serve the daily necessities of civilisation? Suppose it should be told, half-way in the process, that all this was good for it, was part of a great plan, supremely wise, for its permanent benefit I Would it not be likely to say, “Why did you not leave me in my sluggish content in the darkness of the mine? I was happy there. I had no dream there of a higher and better lot. I should have never known these terrible buffets and scourgings and bitings and pressures if I had been left there. Oh, for that gloom and calm again!” In its silver-bar state, afterwards in its coin-state, will it say so? It can look back then on the trials and pains, and see their meaning and read their bitter but splendid benevolence. We see enough now to show that the best qualities of human nature are brought out and tested by difficulty and suffering. To the choice characters of the world God can say now, as the Spirit said through Isaiah, “I have refined thee, but not with silver: I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” And if this world is designed not as the final state for the enjoyment of God, but as the state in which we get the preparation of quality within for the true knowledge and enjoyment of Him, we find the whole secret of life--of its terrors and its hidden mercy--when we follow the ore from its cave to its appearance as the clean silver and the flaming gold. Do not fail either to receive the searching lesson as to judgment hidden in this analogy. The ore is tested thoroughly at the final process of its history. The assayer, by balance and fire, determines exactly what its quality is and its worth. And the processes of God’s government are taking us to judgment. It is to be known and seen one day just what we are. To the great judgment of truth you and I, and all the millions living, are moving with every heart-beat, and nothing can save us from its severity and its rewards. “The fining-pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but the Lord trieth the hearts.”

1. If we pass now to consider sectarian divisions and strifes in the Christian Church, we can gain some help in a right estimate of them and for a wise charity, from analogies in the science of metallurgy. The great object of the New Testament and of Christianity is to increase religious qualities practically in the world, to add pure working forces to life, so that men will be nobler and happier in themselves and in their relations to each other. God has made different kinds of ores, and equally rich in different kinds. For some kinds of mineral one process is admirable; for other kinds a very different treatment is essential. And human nature is analogous. Evils are thrown off from men, and good is practically brought out, by a variety of spiritual methods; and that Church or system of training is the best for a soul which fits its temperament and quickens its will. In some men the good is quickly and easily appealed to and developed. A simple faith and administration will reach and awaken it. Others have the sulphurets in the soul. They are obstinate. Common batteries and cool washings do not do the work. They need heat, fire, the treatment of the element of fear; that takes hold of them. Calvinism is the process that reduces their stubborn self-will and makes them agents of good. Give the proper temperaments to each Church: let the Episcopalians take those that can be best reached by their methods, and the Methodists take their natural material, and the Swedenborgians and the Quakers and the Calvinists theirs, and the Unitarians theirs, and great good will be done. The world of character will be richer. The work of the Spirit will be variously and properly performed. “There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” In science men appeal to the facts. If you put in a ton of ore and take out a pound of gold, you may say that there ought to be two pounds, but you can’t say that the process does not produce any gold. And if a system of Christian administration produces honesty, integrity, principle, charity, interest in worship, interest in good ideas and good government and liberty and order, quiet and elevated homes, readiness to serve others and to hold gifts and treasures partly in trust for others--are these qualities to be denied to be good because the process which produces them is different from the ordinary customs? The melter and assayer does not make coin; society does not allow him to put his stamp on money and say, “All gold is spurious which is not poured from my crucibles.” It is his office to produce gold. The Government coins and issues it, and allows that great office to no private hands. So the business of Churches is to produce purity, reverence integrity, charity, readiness to do good in all forms. God rates and stamps the products, and His judgment is the final and the only one as to the honesty or spuriousness of the products of the sanctuaries. There is one other point upon which I wish to make our subject bear in illustration.

2. There is a great discussion now about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and its religious value. Is it a verbally inspired, completely accurate, and authoritative revelation? The Old Testament is a very wonderful book, and its value in the religious and providential training of the world cannot readily be stated. But it is not a continuous revelation. It does not offer you concentrated spiritual truth in all its pages, the pure silver and gold of the Spirit. The Old Testament is a great lode, or precious mineral vein, upheaved and winding through the strata of a national history. There are different kinds and qualities of ore in it, some easy, some difficult of reduction to the pure standard of moral truth. The Old Testament, compared with all other ancient national literatures, is a religious gold and silver vein immensely, incalculably, divinely rich. That is its distinction in the world, and will be its distinction for ever. And by the statement and authority of Jesus Himself, we get its concentrated value in the laws of love to God and our neighbour. If you understand little of commentaries and theological discussion and council lore, and have these, you have what Jesus Christ called the essentials. Knowledge of mining is good, but its practical value is in furnishing the silver for human use. This spirit of love is the silver into which the inspiration collected from the ore of the Bible is finally reduced. If you do not possess this spirit, your Biblical learning is only intellectual wisdom, your soundness of faith is only correct thinking; and though you may be baptized every day in the name and forms of the most orthodox creed, you advance not by a step towards the kingdom of heaven. (T. Starr King.)


Verse 4

Proverbs 17:4

A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.

The conversational likings of bad men

Men’s characters may be known by the conversations they most relish. The text enables us to see the kind of conversation that bad men like.

I. They like flattery. “A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips.” The flatterer is a man of false lips. The more corrupt men are, the more blindly credulous to everything that makes them appear better than they are. He who compliments them palliates their offences, gives them credit for virtues they possess not, is their favourite companion, and they ever “give heed” to his lips. One of the best things recorded of George

III. is, that one of his first acts after his ascension to the throne was to issue an order prohibiting any of the clergy who should be called to preach before him from paying him any compliment in their discourses. His Majesty was led to this from the fulsome adulation which Dr. Thomas Wilson, Prebendary of Westminster, thought proper to deliver in the Chapel Royal, and for which, instead of thanks, he received from his royal auditor a pointed reprimand, his Majesty observing that he came to chapel to hear the praise of God, not his own.

II. They like calumny. The liar is also the “wicked doer.” The “naughty tongue,” whilst it speaks flatteries and falsehoods of all kinds, speaks calumnies also. And the worse the man is the more welcome to his depraved heart are the reports of bad things concerning others.

1. Calumny gratifies the pride of evil men. It helps them to cherish the thought that they are not worse than others, perhaps better.

2. Calumny gratifies the malignity of evil men. The worse a man is the more malevolence he has in him; the more gratified he is at hearing bad things concerning other men. “If,” said Bishop Hall, “I cannot stop other men’s mouths from speaking ill, I will either open my mouth to reprove it or else I will stop mine ears from hearing it, and let him see in my face that he hath no room in my heart.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)


Verse 5

Verse 10

Proverbs 17:10

A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.

Moral and corporeal chastisement

I. The one in its sphere is as legitimate as the other. Look at the sphere of each.

1. The sphere of the moral. It is for the wise. The “reproof” is for men open to reason and impression--men whose natures are susceptible to moral arguments and appeals.

2. The sphere of the corporeal. It is for “fools.” Of what service is an argument to an ox, or a whip to a soul?

II. The one in its sphere is more thorough than the other. “A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.”

1. The one is more painful than the other. What is pain arising from a few lashes on the body compared to the pain arising in the soul from a conviction of moral wrong? What pain did reproof give David! (Psalms 51:1-19.). What agony did the reproving look of Christ give Peter!

2. The one is more corrective than the other. Corporeal chastisement will never do the fool any moral good. You cannot whip the moral devil out of men (Proverbs 27:22). But moral chastisements correct the wrongs of the soul. The fires of moral conviction separate the gold from the dross. (Homilist.)


Verse 12

Proverbs 17:12

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.

The cruelty of fools

The rage of wild beasts is short-lived, and their power is circumscribed within narrow limits. Man has more cause to dread his brother than all the beasts of the forest. Ambition, jealousy, and superstition are sad sources of cruelty. We all abhor the deeds of cruelty which the “fool in his folly” so frequently commits; but alas! we have not all an adequate estimate of the guilt attaching to the man at the moment, and in the act of entering into his folly. (W. Arnot, D. D.)


Verse 14

Proverbs 17:14

The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.

Strife and contention

Here contention seems to differ from strife, the former being more general, the latter more particular. Strife is by implication wholly forbidden, as being most mischievous; contention is regulated and ordered to be left off, in due time, before it be meddled with. Contending by reason and argument is frequently a duty recommended and practised by the best of men. But so soon as the contending parties refuse to hear reason, and proceed with heat and passion, then arises strife. Then every method made use of to carry a cause tends to widen the breach and inflame the adversaries. If the matter of the strife should only be unseasonable it may nevertheless prove mischievous and fatal by drawing men off from attending to things of the greatest importance to the public welfare, and by souring their temper, make union and concord impracticable. For the manner alone in which strife is usually carried on renders it impossible to be kept in due bounds. Even the end itself, for which the strife was at first begun, is neglected or forgotten. The parties engaged go on from skirmishes to battles, from the provoking of wrath to the drawing of blood. Would you avoid strife, and the mischiefs which naturally follow from it? Then leave off contention in due season: “before it be meddled with,” i.e., before the contention be too much diffused or blended with passion; or the parties proceed to open rupture and hostilities; or other persons mix themselves in the quarrel. Compare “It is an honour for a man to cease from strife; but every fool will be meddling.” The advice is so excellent and so necessary that one cannot but wish means might be found to put it in practice. When men of birth, education, and fortune are governed in all questions by the dictates of reason and divest themselves of all prejudice and passion, they soon reduce all their differences to an inconsiderable quantity, and settle in such a manner as candour and equity can approve. Let every one, then, in his sphere and station, endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: to quench every spark of discord or strife. To bring this happy work to effect there is but one certain and never-failing method, which is this, to regulate our whole conduct by the Word of God, from whence we are instructed to practise every duty recommended by right, reason, and the best policy. (John Newcombe, D. D.)

The beginning of strife

The history of the French port of St. Valery, where William I embarked for the conquest of England in 1066, may well illustrate the truth that the beginning of strife is as the letting out of water. The success of the Norman enterprise did not prevent but occasioned the return of the tide of war after an interval of two centuries. Then during the Hundred Years War it was first burnt by the English, and then by Charles the Bad of Navarre. After that it was destroyed by Louis XI to keep it out of our hands, and in later years it was sacked by Leaguers, Royalists, and Spaniards, so that the historian of Abbeville says that “history has failed to keep count of its disasters.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Strife

Crabb makes a difference between discord and strife. He says, “Discord evinces itself in various ways--by looks, words, or actions; strife displays itself in words, or acts of violence. Discord is fatal to the happiness of families; strife is the greatest enemy to peace between neighbours; discord arose between the goddesses on the apple being thrown into one assembly. Homer commences his poem with the strife that took place between Agamemnon and Achilles.” The passages suggests three ideas concerning strife.

I. It is an evil of terrific progress. This strife spreads. One angry word leads to another, one act of resentment, will kindle a fire that may set a whole neighbourhood or a nation into conflagration. A drop of strife soon becomes a river, and the river a torrent.

II. It is an evil that should be checked. “Therefore leave off contention.” Every lover of his race and his God should suppress it. It is a desolating thing, it makes sad havoc in families, neighbourhoods, churches, nations.

1. Be inspired with the spirit of peace.

2. Maintain the character of peace.

3. Use the argument of peace. Thus he will check the spirit of strife.

III. It is an evil which can be easily checked at the beginning. You may mend the embankment with tolerable ease at the stage when it emits only a few oozing drops. The mightiest and most furious beasts of prey you can easily destroy at their birth; the most majestic and resistless river you can stop at its spring head. So it is with strife, in its incipient state you may easily crush it. Crush the upas in the germ, tread out the conflagration in the spark. (D. Thomas, D. D.)


Verse 15

Proverbs 17:15

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.

Our estimate of other men

We may regard such an estimate from three points of view: in its effect on those thus estimated, on society in general, and on ourselves. Did we ever question with ourselves, “On what is my estimate of others usually founded”? If we did we should surely be dissatisfied with our present practice. It would be unnatural and absurd to pretend that no influence should be exerted over our estimate of men by the organs of public opinion; equally unreasonable to decry them as perfectly unreliable in the matter. But there may be very much untruthfulness, short of what is utter and absolute; very much which is utter and absolute, and yet escapes detection. What is the duty of Christians with regard to the blame and praise of others? Insist first on the general duty of conscientiousness in forming all our estimates of other men. It should be our aim as Christians, not obsequiously to follow public opinion, but to act for ourselves and for God. There is a timidity, even amounting to cowardice, among us in forming and expressing our opinion of other men. The body of Christian men among us seems to have abjured the duty of conscientiousness; and this abjuration is one of the most fearful symptoms of our times. The duty of estimating others as in the sight of God is not by any means a light one, but a most solemn one. Unholy and unprincipled life, wherever found, ought to be protested against by the servants of God. There is a sad tendency among us to overlook those faults which fall in with the practice of the day, which consist in the neglect of unwelcome duties, or the committal of lightly-esteemed sins. The second person who is said to be an abomination to the Lord is “he that condemneth the just.” We are always more prone to condemn than to justify. It is an abuse of our instinct of self-preservation to be ever ready with our hostility to other men. The general propensity to depress others renders it very easy, in any case, to condemn. Point out a few ways by which we may guard ourselves against this tendency to condemn the just. The first caution is this--look ever at the life which is palpable rather than at the motive or the creed, which are usually mere matters of surmise. A second caution is, avoid and refuse to use, and protest against the use of, all party names. Another caution is this--form your opinions of others, not at the prompting of the world, but as under the eye of God. For all our most secret judgments of men and things we are accountable to Him. (H. Alford, B. D.)

Just estimates

It was a saying of Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, that a republic walks upon two feet; one being just punishment for the unworthy, the other due reward for the worthy. If it fail in either of these, it necessarily goes lame. How if it fail in both?


Verse 16

Proverbs 17:16

Wherefore is there a price in the hand of fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?

Opportunities of youth

The term “fool” is not used in the modern sense of a man without reason; but rather in the sense of an unreasoning man. The term is applied much as we apply the term “wicked man.” The figure in the text is one drawn from commerce. It represents a man who has been given a sum which he is to invest. He spends part of it in dissipation, part in unwise and unprofitable commodities, and some part in shadows and cheats and pretences; and when he has expended that sum he is a bankrupt. Wicked or foolish men have committed to them a price or a capital, and what is the use if they have no heart to use it right? What good does it do them if they do not employ it as they should? The idea that men are sent into this world for a purpose, and that they are equipped for the accomplishment of that purpose, is given in both the Testaments. Men comprehensively have committed to them, in bodily organs, and in their mental equipment, a power singularly complex, but wise and efficient, and as compared with the agencies of nature in its adaptations to the work of life, surpassing the human frame itself. Natural laws are the great agencies of nature that are being used or fructified by the volition of man. Each man stands at the centre of a sphere of possibilities where he, through knowledge, may come to control natural law and work in his limited sphere as God works in the infinite sphere. Then there is the good name and fame which descends to many of us from our parents. There is a presumption that stock and blood will tell, and that a good father will have good children. It is invaluable to a young man beginning life to have the kindly expectation, the generous sympathy and goodwill of those to whom he comes. What a price is put into the hands of the young in our time in the matter of education; if a man has a heart for knowledge, if he has an ambition to acquire it, and if he is quick to discern, the eye, the ear, every sense becomes the minister of education. Alas! that there should be so many who care nothing for it! Closely connected with this is the capital of bodily health. Good health is a wonderful help to morality, to nobility of character, and to calmness and decision of judgment and action. Next is the capacity of industry. I believe fervently in enterprise, but I also believe fervently in the good old-fashioned notions about patient industry. Every person has that in him by which he can win a moderate success in life by simply doing, day by day, the right things, however humble a sphere he may be in. To many have also been given the invaluable qualities of integrity, honour, and fidelity. These are very valuable from a commercial point of view. A man who is honest, and truthful, and full of integrity, when he has finally been proved, has everybody engineering for him. Then look upon life as a very solemn thing. God has given you one life, and has put capital into your hands, and sent you into this world to buy immortality. Do not squander that price. Listen to the voice of wisdom. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Means and abilities to get wisdom

We may define wisdom to be a right apprehension of those things that are best for us, and a diligent pursuit of them by such means as are agreeable to the laws of piety and virtue. Men have sometimes abilities and opportunities to act wisely for themselves, but neglect them, and have no heart to make their just advantages of them.

1. A man of good natural faculties and endowments of mind may be said to have the price of wisdom in his hand, when he hath no heart to it.

2. This price may be understood of the schools of good education and learning. Those who are brought up in such places often act the part of fools.

3. Riches are in many respects the price of wisdom, in that they enable their owners to buy books, to hire teachers, and to be at leisure to spend their time in the study of useful learning.

4. Men of great power and authority have the price of wisdom in their hands.

5. We have a noble price put into our hands to get wisdom, in the ordinances of religion and means of grace we enjoy. These advantages are the portion of every Christian. But these opportunities are sadly often in the hands of those who have no heart to make use of them. This appears--

We often condemn our own mismanagement of the talents which God has given us, and look back with much regret upon those opportunities which have slipped through our hands. But the power is often given without the will, so that we suffer many opportunities to pass away and be lost without improving them to any good purpose. (W. Reading, M. A.)


Verse 17

Proverbs 17:17

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

The unrivalled Friend

Few men enjoy from others the highest and truest form of friendship. There is, however, a higher friendship among men of principle, among men of virtue. Where godliness builds her house, true friendship finds a rest. Take this text and refer it to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I. The endurance of the love of Jesus Christ. He loved before time began. He loved you when time began with you. Since that day this Friend has loved us at all times. Consider the reality of Christ’s love at all times. His love has never been a thing of mere words and pretensions. Consider the nature of the love of Christ, as accounting for its endurance and reality. His love sprang from the purest possible motives. Christ’s love was a wise love, not blind as ours often is. He loved us knowing exactly what we were whom He loved. His love is associated continually with an infinite degree of patience and pity. He is so constant in His love, because He sees us as what we are to be. He is described as “born for adversity,” the adversity of the fall, and of tribulation.

II. Refer the text to the Christian. You have found Jesus Christ to be a true brother and a blessed friend; now let the same be true of you. If Christ be such a friend to us, what manner of people ought we to be towards Him? We should be friends that love Christ at all times. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A brother born for adversity

I. Adversity is the common lot of brotherhood. It comes sooner or later to all of us. It is a necessity of our nature. It is a wise appointment of God.

II. The ties of brotherhood are formed for adversity. We are united in families for purposes of mutual succour.

III. adversity tends to sanctify the intercourse of the brotherhood. Some of the most valuable of our lessons are taught us in our intercourse with one another.

IV. In adversity we are led to know, in an especial manner, the presence of the elder brother with the brotherhood. Jesus became a brother in adversity. His sufferings and sorrows enabled Him to sympathise with us in all our struggles and troubles.

V. It is by adversity that the whole brotherhood are gathered at last into our Father’s house above. (Anon.)

Men’s friendship and Christ’s

Friendship is no fiction; all history bears record to its reality. There are many relationships in this world dignified by the name of friendship which really do not deserve it, as, for example, acquaintanceship, the freedom to interchange visits of courtesy, and association in business. These pass for friendship; but they are only its shadows. The perfect friendship is a very exacting relation.

1. The first value of friendship is that it will give support in weakness, understanding amid evil reports, consolation in sorrow, and help in the bearing of burdens; and that is no friendship which breaks down under such demands. Trouble is a splendid thing for any man if it only sifts his friends; it saves him a deal of trouble in other ways. There is an admirable compensation about our existence.

2. The second service of a friend is that he is one to whom all our thoughts may be uttered, one to whom we may be absolutely sincere. Ordinarily, a man is only honest when he is alone; let another man come in, and hypocrisy begins. Our words are a kind of clothes to hide our real selves. But with a friend we are absolutely open; we do all our thinking aloud, we stand erect before him, and find in his mind a true picture of what we are. Such a friend is a masterpiece of nature.

3. A third service is that it affords us the possession of one soul to whom we may be tender without shame. See the tenderness between David and Jonathan, and between Achilles and Patroclus. When one man becomes dear to another they have both reached the goal of fortune. By a tender friendship the Divine part in us finds exercise.

4. The fourth service which friendship renders is that it helps us to know ourselves and to know God. When you enjoy friendship most it is in contrast to solitude, and you seek solitude again, in order to know what you have gained from your friend. You cannot reckon up a profit and loss account while you are in his company; you have to retire to your own soul’s communion in order to ascertain your gain and loss thereby. Thus you have a compensation for intercourse with another soul by introspection of your own. Further, as the power that keeps the atoms together in one body is of God, the tie between your friend’s heart and your own is of God, and you cannot let your consciousness of friendship deepen without deepening at the same time your consciousness of God. (H. H. Snell.)

Friendship in adversity

Love, while it remains essentially the same, appears tenfold more loving when its object has fallen from prosperity into poverty; as a lamp burning in daylight shines much more brightly in the darkness. Many will court you while you have much to give; when you need to receive, the number of your friends will be diminished, but their quality will be improved. Your misfortune, like a blast of wind upon the thrashed corn, will drive the chaff away, but the wheat will remain where it was. How very sweet sometimes is the human friendship that remains when sore adversity has sifted it! (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Friendship

The more we understand the world the better we comprehend the Bible. The Spirit that overshadowed its writers knew all the ins and outs of human hearts, all the mysteries of human guilt and grief.

I. The ideal of friendship. Every man cannot be a friend. Friendships cannot be willed, they must be made. They grow; they want resemblances. Earthly friendships have often some element of weakness in them. No man can know more of his brother without knowing the worst as well as the best of him. Friendship with Christ alone satisfies. Here is--

1. The test of friendship. “At all times.” True only of Christ.

2. The preciousness of friendship.

3. The future of friendship.

II. The ideal of brotherhood. “A brother is born for adversity.”

1. This is a unique fact.

2. It is a designed fact.

3. It is an adapted fact.

To be a true brother, Christ must take account of the world as it is, and what word is there more expressive of life than this, “adverse things”--things that turn against us! (W. M. Statham.)

Constancy in friendship

That is not true friendship which is not constant; it will be so if it be sincere and actuated by a good principle. Those that are fanciful and selfish in their friendship will love no longer than their humour is pleased and their interest served, and therefore their affections turn with the wind, and change with the weather. Swallow-friends, that fly to you in summer, but are gone in winter; such friends there is no loss of. But if the friendship be prudent, generous, and cordial, if I love my friend because he is wise, and virtuous, and good, so long as he continues so, though he fall into poverty and disgrace, still I shall love him. (Matthew Henry.)


Verse 22

Proverbs 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Mental and bodily influence

The connection between the mind and the body, though not to be explained, is so striking as to force itself upon the notice of the least observant. There is such a sympathy between the two that the one cannot suffer and the other be unaffected. But the mind will often claim such independence of the body as the body can never assert over the mind. When the torture is of the mind alone, there will be comparatively little bodily capacity to bear up under the pressure. Solomon says here that a “merry heart,” a cheerful mind, a spirit contented and well at ease, will administer support and strength for endurance. But Solomon treats also the case of a mind assailed and out of joint, and says that, in this case, the body as well as the mind will be utterly prostrated.

I. The power which the mind can exert in support of the body so long as itself is in good condition. Where there is no aid drawn from the resources of religion, there may be firmness the most unflinching in the endurance of pain. The records of savage life prove the existence of a sustaining principle in man. There is a power in man’s spirit to sustain his infirmity. The truth that men have no power of renewing their nature must not be interpreted as implying that men have no power of reforming their lives. The doctrine of human degeneracy, preached in an unguarded and overwrought strain, makes men imagine that they can do nothing unless they feel themselves acted on by a supernatural machinery, and that, until they have experienced inward revelation, it is idle to set about outward reformation. We would always hold that a great deal lies in the unconverted man’s power. We can never believe, whilst there is the spectacle on earth of mind wielding a thorough sovereignty over matter, a sovereignty so perfect that the body is set before us as literally the vassal of the spirit, we at all exaggerate his abilities when we urge him, as a candidate for the prizes of eternity, to improve the life, and break away from habits and associations of unrighteousness.

II. A man’s total incapacity to bear a wounded spirit. We are not accustomed to admit up to the full a matter of fact--the physical destructiveness, so to speak, of an overwrought mind. The greatest wear and tear is from mental labour. Mental disquietude tells on the health with corroding and devastating power. It is the gracious appointment of God that a wound in the spirit begins to close so soon as made; so that where there is the wish there is not the power of keeping it long open. If it be true that the endurance of grief cannot be referred to indwelling energy, but rather to that soothing action of time which comes into play on the first moment of affliction, then there is no witness from the experience of mankind against the truth of the text. It cannot be assumed that a spirit is broken until stricken by that Word of God which is “quick and powerful.” Conviction of sin is the unbearable thing, and an awakened conscience an irresistible tormentor. A truly broken spirit is that which is bruised by a sense of sin. It is impossible that man should long sustain the anguish of conviction of sin. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

A cheerful spirit

I. The value of a cheerful spirit.

1. It helps bodily health.

2. It is a clarifier and invigorator of the mind.

3. It lubricates the wearing machinery of business and daily care.

II. How attain this spirit?

1. Look at your mercies with both eyes; your troubles with only one eye.

2. Learn Paul’s secret: “In whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

3. Be useful. Light somebody’s torch, and your own will burn brighter.

4. Make God your trustee. Believe in His care of your welfare. (Homiletic Review.)

Bodily health depending on mental moods

So closely connected is the soul with the body, that physical health is ever, to a great extent, dependent on mental states. A dark thought has power to work disease and death into the corporeal frame. This is a fact--

1. Recognised by medical science. A wise physician avails himself of this fact, and is ever anxious not only to dispel all sad thought from the mind of the patient, but to awaken the most pleasurable thoughts and emotions. It is a fact--

2. Attested by general experience.

I. The responsibility of man for his physical health. Man is responsible for his mental disposition, whether cheerful or gloomy, and his disposition greatly determines his health.

II. The duty of the guardians of childhood and youth.

III. The sanitary influence of Christianity. The design of Christianity is to fill the human heart with joy. “These things have I spoken unto you that your joy may be full.” Christianity is the best physician to the body. He who promotes Christinity is the wise philanthropist. Some people are always trying to keep the body well, and neglect entirely the condition of the soul. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The effects of cheerfulness and of despondency

I. The meaning of the verbs.

1. By “a merry heart” is meant a heart which has been taught by the Spirit of God to seek its happiness in Divine and heavenly objects, which is disposed to look at the bright side of things under the influence of contentment and hope. Such a heart has the best reason for cheerfulness. Faith keeps it from suspicion and distrust, hope from despair, and charity from that envy which is a rottenness of the bones. The love of God shed abroad in the heart makes it form the most favourable idea of every dispensation, and Christ dwelling there brightens all around by His presence.

2. By the “broken spirit” is meant a heart crushed by affliction, and which refuses to be comforted. Such is his spirit who, seeing his affairs ruined by his own folly, or the knavery of others, or by misfortunes which he could neither foresee nor prevent, sinks into utter despondence, and becomes incapable of the least effort to better his circumstances. Such is his spirit who, seeing the desire of his eyes taken away with a stroke, imagines he has nought now to live for. Such also is the spirit of the man wounded by remorse, or shattered by the influence of indulged melancholy, jealousies, suspicions, and fears.

II. Illustrate this view here given of the result of cheerfulness and depression.

1. Let us consider their influence on the body. The influence of a suitable medicine on the body is wonderful. Disease is checked or alleviated by it when first received; the continued use of it removes it entirely, and strengthens the constitution to resist its further attacks. Such is the power of holy joy over the health. On the other hand a broken spirit dries up the bones, and the finest constitution sinks under its influence.

2. Consider their influence on prosperity and adversity. All the comforts of prosperity are heightened by a cheerful spirit. So amiable does prosperity appear when thus enjoyed, that every heart wishes its continuance; but the broken spirit is a stranger to all the satisfactions as well as the homage of gratitude. On such a heart all its delights are lavished in vain. The cheerful heart can triumph in adversity. But how different is the case with the broken spirit! Every temporal disaster is the supposed prelude to their ruin, etc.

3. Consider the influence of cheerfulness and of depression on the soul. Cheerfulness quickens all the powers of the soul in their exercise; the imagination forms the most pleasing ideas of scenes and objects; memory calls up the most joyous recollections; hope paints the future blissful as the present; and the understanding, rejoicing in the truth, pursues its inquiries with unwearied ardour. On the other hand, when the spirit is broken, the imagination calls up only scenes of woe; memory brings nought to remembrance but what tends to disquiet and torment us; despair clothes the heavens with blackness; and the understanding doth nought but write bitter things, and form the most dreadful conclusions against itself.

4. Consider the influence of cheerfulness and depression on the duties and the pursuits of life. When the heart is cheerful the duties of a man’s calling are a pleasure to him. How ingenious is the cheerful heart in finding the means of enjoyment and in extending these! On the other hand, when the spirit is broken the duties of a man’s profession are a burden him.

5. Consider their influence on the connections of life. The man of a merry heart is the happiness of his family and friends. How different is the case with the broken spirit! The indications of joy in his presence such a man is apt to regard as an insult to his wretchedness.

Conclusion:

1. How strongly does the broken spirit claim our pity and our prayers! It is impossible to conceive on this side the grave a condition more dreary.

2. Let us carefully guard against the first symptoms of despondence in ourselves and in others. Let us seek out those remedies which the gospel contains for raising the bowed down.

3. Let me address those who are blessing themselves in a false mirth. I know not whether the despairing mourner or the jovial sinner is the greatest object of pity. The jovial sinner’s mirth is like the laughter of the maniac, or like the singing of a patient whose brain a fever hath disordered. The broken spirit may lead to that godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation, but the audacious mirth of the sinner is most likely to end in weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. (H. Belfrage, D. D.)


Verse 24

Proverbs 17:24

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.

The nearness of life’s interest and work

“Far fowls have fine feathers”--that is our modern rendering of the Hebrew proverb. Both proverbs are directed against a common weakness of human nature, our English proverb hitting it off with a good-natured smile, the Hebrew proverb rebuking it with the bluntness of a moral censor. To make little of what is at our door, and to magnify what is distant, is a familiar way in which the weakness of human nature shows itself. It is a weakness to which most of us must plead guilty, and it is a weakness which proves itself a formidable enemy of spiritual life. There is no chance of our achieving anything great in the spiritual life while we hug the delusion that greatness is to be found far off in space or in time, and that its only congenial surroundings are far different from those in which we find ourselves. The wise man knows where to look for the interest and grandeur of life; he knows they are to be found near at hand, even at his own door. Two directions in which this lesson is needed.

I. We may look for the interest of life in the wrong place. It is difficult to see the spiritual in what is commonplace, the great in what is near, the sacred in what is ordinary. Men go to far-off lands seeking beauty which can be found almost at their doors. The romance of life has often been sought far afield, while all the time a nobler romance was to be found around the door. The wisest delineators of human life have found its romance near home. One reason of the popularity of George Eliot’s novels lies just here, that she has taken up the lives of ordinary people, and shown, with fine sympathy, how rich in interest is the common life of the common people. It is of supreme importance for the living of a Christian life that we should have our interest kept fresh and rightly directed. It is not only the flesh that wars against the spirit, but listlessness; not only positive sins, but the deadening weight of the conviction that we are set down in the midst of dull commonplace. Our enthusiasm needs to be aroused, and the rousing of our enthusiasm must spring from the conviction that there is something within our reach worth being enthusiastic about. That conviction often fails us just because we commit the folly which our proverb reproves. Immanuel Kant was never more than a few miles from his native Konigsberg. He found in the human mind a field of study exhaustless in its scope and interest. If the life of our town is dull it is because our own souls are dull. The insipidity and commonplaceness of which we complain belong to our own vision.

II. We may look for the work of life in the wrong place. The one error is linked with the other. From false views of life there spring erroneous conceptions of the work we may accomplish. It is not circumstances that make a man spiritually great, but the way in which he handles the circumstances. Spiritual greatness springs not from without, but from within. It matters little what may be the rough material put into our hands. The spiritual product we turn out depends upon the spirit in which we work. Our work is not far off in the ends of the earth; it is close beside us. These are no tame, prosaic days in which we live. They may be days of trouble, and unrest, and upheaval, but the Spirit of God is moving as of old upon the face of the waters. We need not sigh for the opportunity of playing our part in the movements of other days. The movements of to-day are enough for our faith, and energy, and devotion. (D. M. Ross, M. A.)

Contrast between a wise man and a fool

I. That the one has a meaning, the other an unmeaning face. One translator renders the words “In the countenance of a wise man wisdom appeareth, but the fool’s eyes roll to and fro.” God has so formed man that his face is the index to his soul; it is the dial-plate of the mental clock. A wise man’s face looks wisdom--calm, devout, reflective. The fool’s face looks folly. As the translucent lake reflects the passing clouds and rolling lights of sky, so does the human countenance mirror the soul.

II. That the one has an occupied the other a vacant mind. The meaning of Solomon perhaps may be wisdom as before, that is, present, with the man that hath understanding. The principles of wisdom are in his mind, are ever before his eye. Wisdom is “before” his mind in every circumstance and condition. Its rule, the Word of God, is before him. Its principle, the love of God, is before him. Thus he has an occupied mind. But the mind of the fool is vacant. His “eyes are in the ends of the earth.” He has nothing before him, nothing true, or wise, or good. He looks at emptiness. Alas! how vacant the mind of a morally unwise man! It is a vessel without ballast, at the mercy of the winds and waves. His thoughts are unsubstantial, his hopes are illusory, the sphere of his conscious life a mirage.

III. That the one has a settled, the other an unsettled heart. The morally wise man is fixed, wisdom is before him and his heart is on it. He is rooted and grounded in the faith. He is not used by circumstances, but he makes circumstances serve him. But the fool is unsettled, his “eyes are in the ends of the earth.” His mind, like the evil spirit, walks to and fro through the earth, seeking rest and finding none. (Homilist.)

Common follies

If the eyes are in the ends of the earth, they cannot be here, where, probably, the work and duty lie. The man will stumble over obstacles which he would see if his eyes were where they should be, and he wilt lose his way. This is a common kind of folly, and appears under different aspects.

I. The folly of discontent. A man’s eyes may be said to be in the ends of the earth if he thinks his happiness lies in a different sphere from that which Providence has allotted to him. The grumbling spirit is widespread, and is not confined to any class of the community. Sometimes the round man is put into the square hole. God does not invariably wish a man to stay for ever in the place where he has been dropped. The mistake is when we so allow these feelings to work in us that they make us disheartened where we are. Some time the tide of opportunity rises to every man’s feet, and happy is he if he is ready to take it when his hour comes. But if it does not come, what then? Why, then we must surely conclude that God needs us where we are.

II. The folly of the scorner. A person’s eyes are in the ends of the earth if the objects of his admiration are all people he has never seen, and if he has nothing but contempt for those among whom he lives. If the only causes that can awaken your enthusiasm are causes belonging to past centuries, if all your heroes are men who are dead, and you have no living heroes, your eyes are in the ends of the earth. Some go to romance and poetry for the objects of their admiration. But it is one thing to pity the poor in a book, and quite a different thing to pity them in the flesh.

III. The folly of the busybody. A person’s eyes are in the ends of the earth when he occupies his eyes with the affairs of other people and neglects his own. The gossip; the loud-mouthed politician; the satirist who lashes the iniquities of the times, and who himself is the slave of the same vices. A wise man said that ours is an age when every man wants to reform the world and no one is willing to reform himself.

IV. The folly of the procrastinator. A man’s eyes are in the ends of the earth if he is looking forward to the proper use of future time and not making proper use of present time. We all do it. How easy and pleasant is the duty which is going to be done to-morrow! Some are committing this folly in regard to the most important of all concerns--the concern of the soul and eternity. This is a threefold folly.

1. The future opportunity may never come.

2. If it does come, can you be sure that you will then be anxious about eternity?

3. You can only have a mean and selfish conception of religion if you defer it to some future time. You are going to spend your life on yourself, going to give it to the devil, and at last going to creep to Christ and get Him to take you into heaven and save you from the consequences of your sin. Can you hold your face up to a conception of religion like that? Christ wants your life--wants to make it year by year more and more useful and noble. (James Stalker, D. D.)


Verse 26

Proverbs 17:26

Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity.

Striking princes

The spirit of lawlessness, which sought a remedy for real or imaginary ills by striking at princes, was not a strange thing in the times of Solomon. The simple negative in Scripture is often stronger and more significant than the first blush of the expression suggests. It is “not good” to strike princes for equity means that it is absolutely bad. It is “not good” morally, for it is a heinous crime; it is “not good” socially, for it fosters a spirit of restlessness and insecurity; it is “not good” politically, for it fails to establish the peace and prosperity of a nation; it is “not good” spiritually, for in the eyes of the Eternal Judge it is an odious sin. Morally, socially, politically, and spiritually it is a gigantic error, a colossal folly, an abominable iniquity, to strike at princes. The expression is capable of three interpretations.

1. It may mean a dogged defiance of their authority--a fixed determination not to obey their laws.

2. It may mean an effort to supplant a prince, a secret or overt attempt to alienate the affections and confidence of the subjects, and transfer the same to another person; a concerted method for placing in the post of honour a rival candidate for popular favour.

3. It may mean assassination, a cruel and cowardly attempt on the life of the sovereign, an execrable conspiracy to hurry into the unseen world the occupant of the national throne. This is a most diabolical and detestable way of attempting to settle real or imaginary grievances; a sin which is sternly condemned by God, and denounced by all right-thinking men. (J. Hiles Hitchens, D. D.)

A discourse against rebellion

Treason and rebellion are such horrid and loathsome crimes that if they should appear in their native visage and genuine deformity they could never form a party nor allure men to divorce their allegiance. They always, therefore, insinuate into the affections of the unwary or easily deceived multitude under the specious pretences of piety and purity. Some render the second clause of this verse “princes striking for equity” instead of “striking princes for equity.” But this cannot be the true sense in this place. It is against the natural order of the words. The proverb has a double aspect; the one respects princes, forbidding them to punish their righteous subjects; the other respects the people, forbidding them to rebel against their princes for equity’s sake. Dealing with this second part, consider--

I. The doom and censure. “It is not good.” It speaks only dislike, but means detestation. It implies that it is a crime most impious in itself, and most odious and abominable to God.

II. The action condemned. “To strike princes.”

1. We must not strike princes with the tongue, in their fame and reputation.

2. We must not strike princes in their authority, nor the exercise of it over us. This may be done by refusing to be subject to their laws, or by deposing them from their dominion.

3. It is sacrilege to strike them in their persons, and to offer violence to their liberty or life.

III. The cause, motive, or provocation to this abominable action. That is equity. Either the prince’s equity or the subject’s equity. To strike for either is here censured as a heinous crime.

1. It may he understood of resisting and rebelling against them for their own equity and the execution of that justice which is committed to them.

2. It may be understood of striking them for their subject’s equity. That is, it is a great injustice to strike princes upon any pretences of equity and justice in so doing. Never yet was there any insurrection against the lawful magistrate but what was prefaced with glorious pretences, the honour of God, the liberty of the subject, a due freedom for tender consciences, etc. These are all excellent things, and we can never too much prosecute them while we do it in a lawful and allowed manner. But a good purpose can never justify a wicked action, and God abhors that our sins should be made the means of His glory. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)


Verse 27-28

Proverbs 17:27-28

He that hath knowledge spareth his words.

Signs of a wise man

Two ways a man may show himself to be a wise man.

1. By the good temper, the sweetness and the sedateness of his mind. “A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit,” i.e., a precious spirit. He is one that looks well to his spirit, that it be as it should be, and so keeps it in an even frame, easy to himself, and pleasant to others. A gracious spirit is a precious spirit, and renders a man amiable and more excellent than his neighbour. He is of a cool spirit (so some read it), not heated with passion nor put into any tumult or disorder by the impetus of any corrupt affection, but even and stayed. A cool head with a warm heart is an admirable composition.

2. By the good government of his tongue. A wise man will be of few words, as being afraid of speaking amiss; he that has knowledge, and aims to do good with it, is careful, when he does speak, to speak to the purpose, and says little, in order that he may take time to deliberate. He spares his words, because they are better spared than ill-spent. This is generally taken for such a sure indication of wisdom that a fool may gain the reputation of being a wise man if he have but wit enough to hold his tongue, to hear, and see, and say little. If a fool hold his peace, men of candour will think him wise, because nothing appears to the contrary, and because it will be thought that he is making observations on what others say and gaining experience, and is consulting with himself what he shall say that he may speak pertinently. See how easy it is to gain men’s good opinion and to impose upon them. But when a fool holds his peace God knows his heart, and the folly that is bound up there; thoughts are words to Him, and therefore He cannot be deceived in His judgment of men. (Matthew Henry.)

The empire of silence

Looking round at the noisy inanity of the world, words with little meaning, actions with little worth, one loves to reflect on the great empire of silence. The noble silent men gathered here and there, each in his department, silently thinking, silently working, whom no morning newspaper makes mention of, they are the salt of the earth. A country that has none or few of these is in a bad way. Like a forest which has no roots, which has all turned into leaves and boughs, which must soon wither and be no forest. Woe to us if we had nothing but what we can show or speak. Silence, the great empire of silence, higher than the stars; deeper than the kingdoms of death! It alone is great; all else is small. (Thomas Carlyle.)

Silence and thought

Bees will not work except in darkness; thought will not work except in silence; neither will virtue work except in silence. Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth. (Thomas Carlyle.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 17:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/proverbs-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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