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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Proverbs 18

 

 

Verse 1

Proverbs 18:1

Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and inter-meddleth with all wisdom.

The case of diversions stated

Dull and insipid is every performance where inclination bears no part. Any one man’s sense, however excellent, unless it mixes in society with that of others, always degenerates into singularity and caprice.

I. How far are social diversions allowable?

1. When there is no reason against any social pleasure there is always a reason for it, viz., that it is a pleasure. To suppose that the Deity would abridge us of any pleasure merely as such when it does not interfere with higher and nobler delights is a notion highly derogatory to His goodness.

2. Diversions are necessary to relieve the cares, sweeten the toils, and smooth the ruggedness of life. He who applies himself to his studies, or any other employment, with proper intervals of refreshment to recruit his spirits, will upon the whole do more good than he who gives unrelieved application. And diversions are necessary under afflictions. The first step towards a recovery of happiness is to steal ourselves gradually from a sense of our misery.

3. Diversions are necessary to endear us to one another. To comply with men’s tastes as far as we innocently can in the little incidents of life, to bear a part in their favourite diversions--this knits men’s hearts to one another and lays the foundations of friendship.

4. Diversions are requisite to enlarge the usefulness and influence of a good character. It would be worth while for the good to endear, by little compliances, their persons to the affections of mankind, that they might recommend their actions to their imitation. If it be asked, When do we exceed the bounds of reason in our diversions? it may be said if, after having made a party in some entertainments, the soul can recall her wandering thoughts and fix them, with the same life and energy as is natural to us in other cases, upon any subject worthy of a rational creature, it is plain that we have not gone too far. And things suitable enough in youth come with an ill grace in advanced years. The greatest hazard is that we should contract a habit of doing nothing to the purpose and should fool away life in an impertinent course of diversions.

II. The necessity of an early and close application to wisdom. It is necessary to habituate our minds, in our younger years, to some employment which may engage our thoughts and fill the capacity of the soul at a riper age. We outgrow the relish of childish amusements, and if we are not provided with a taste for manly satisfactions to succeed in their room we must become miserable at an age more difficult to be pleased. Nothing can be long entertaining, but what is in some measure beneficial, because nothing else will bear a calm and sedate review. There is not a greater inlet to misery and vices of all kinds than the not knowing how to pass our vacant hours. When a man has been laying out that time in the pursuit of some great and important truth which others waste in a circle of gay follies he is conscious of having acted up to the dignity of his nature, and from that consciousness there results that serene complacency which is much preferable to the pleasures of animal life. Happy that man who, unembarrassed by vulgar cares, master of himself, his time and fortune, spends his time in making himself wiser, and his fortune in making others happier.

III. Some reflections which have a connection with this subject.

1. Let us set a just value upon and make a due use of those advantages which we enjoy. Advantages of a regular method of study (as at a university). Direction in the choice of authors upon the most material subjects. A generous emulation quickens our endeavours, and the friend improves the scholar.

2. It is a sure indication of good sense to be diffident of it. We then, and not till then, are growing wise when we begin to discern how weak and unwise we are. (J. Seed, M. A.)

The stimulus of desire

A person under the strong influence of desire is like a hound in pursuit of a deer, which he keenly and steadfastly follows when he has once caught the scent of it, and continues to track it through a herd of others, and for many a weary mile until he has hunted it down, although those which he has passed by may seem easily within his reach. (G. Harris.)

Extracting knowledge

There is no kind of knowledge which, in the hands of the diligent and skilful, will not turn to account. Honey exudes from all flowers, the bitter not excepted; and the bee knows how to extract it. (Bp. Horne.)

Desire an excitement to diligence

If we would get knowledge or grace we must desire it as that which we need and which will be of great advantage to us. We must separate ourselves from all those things which would divert or retard us in the pursuit, retire out of the noise of this world’s vanities, be willing to take pains, and try all the methods of improving ourselves, be acquainted with a variety of opinions, that we may prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. (Matthew Henry.)

The evil of isolation

There are people who shun all togetherness in their lives; they are voluntarily, deliberately separated from their kind. We are to think of one who chooses a life of solitariness in order to follow out his own desire rather than from any necessity of circumstance or disposition; we are to think of a misanthrope. There are men who separate themselves for the common welfare, such as the student and the inventor. But the misanthrope is one who has no faith in his fellows, and shrinks into himself to escape them. Every man is not only a “self,” a personality; he is a very complex being, made up of many relations with other men. He is a son, a brother, a friend, a father, a citizen. Stripped of these he is not a man, but a mere self, and that is his hideous condemnation. An old Greek saying declared that one who lives alone is either a god or a wild beast. The social instinct is one of two or three striking characteristics which mark us out as human. It becomes therefore a necessity to every wise human being to recognise, to maintain, and to cultivate all those wholesome relationships which make us truly human. Neighbourliness is the larger part of life. Our life is rich and true and helpful just in proportion as we are entwined with those who live around us in bonds of mutual respect and consideration, of reciprocal helpfulness and service, of intimate and intelligent friendship. The relation of Christ, as the Son of God, to the human race as a whole immediately opened up the possibility of a world-wide society in which all nations, all classes, all castes, all degrees, all individualities should be not so much merged as distinctly articulated and recognised in a complete and complex whole. The person of Christ is the link which binds all men together; the presence of Christ is the guarantee of the union; the work of Christ, which consists in the removal of sin, is the main condition of a heart union for all mankind. The Christian life must be the life of a community. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)

Seeking wisdom

Two opposite views have been taken of this verse. One makes Solomon refer to a pursuit of knowledge and wisdom that is right and commendable; the other regards him as speaking of what is wrong and censurable. Schultens describes the intended character thus: “A self-conceited, hair-brained fool seeks to satisfy his fancy, and intermingleth himself with all things.” Parkhurst thus: “The recluse seeks his own pleasure or inclination; he laughs at or derides everything solid or wise.” Another thus: “A retired man pursueth the studies he delights in, and hath pleasure in each branch of science.” I am disposed to think that our own translation gives the sense. “Through desire”--that is, the desire of knowledge--“a man, having separated himself”--that is, having retired and secluded himself from interruption by the intrusion of companions and the engagements of social life--“seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” There is a contrast between the character in the first verse and the character in the second verse. The contrast is between the man that loves and pursues knowledge and the man who undervalues and despises it. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)


Verses 1-24

Verse 4

Proverbs 18:4

The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters.

The importance of language

Language is one of the principal tests and standards of civilisation. The study of language is one of the most naturally interesting and naturally elevating studies with which the human mind can occupy itself.

I. It is of great intellectual importance. Only through the instrumentality of language can the thoughts of the mind be revealed and displayed. Nothing bewrays more obviously the rustiness and disorganisation of the intellect than inaccuracy and dulness of language.

II. The moral importance of language is still greater. As a rule the relations between intellect and conscience are harmonious. When the intellect is illuminated it brightens the conscience; when the conscience is quickened it animates the intellect. Language is often a standard of morals. Exactitude of utterance is seldom compatible with great frequency of utterance. Modern writing and modern speech are impotent because they are slipshod. Language is also a great moral force in the world by reason of its variety. A world of one language would not be a very interesting world.

III. The great religious importance of language. The utmost solemnity is attached in the Bible to the use of language. What man can think that words are light and little things when he remembers that it is through the instrumentality of words inspired that God has made known His greatest revelations to mankind? (Canon Diggle.)

The words of inspired wisdom

There are some who regard the two clauses of this verse as antithetic. The former indicating hidden depths of evil in the wicked man. “The words of his mouth are as deep waters.” That is, he is so full of guile and deceit that you cannot reach his meaning. The latter indicating the transparent communications of the wise and the good. “The wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” The communications of the one are guileful--the words conceal rather than reveal. The words of the other are honest and lucid. There are others who regard the two clauses as a parallelism. The character of the former clause is to be taken from the latter. The words of a man’s mouth--that is, according to the second clause, of a wise man’s mouth--are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook. We shall use the words thus as a parallelism to illustrate the words of inspired wisdom which are “wise” in the highest sense.

I. They are full. They are as “deep waters.” The world abounds with shallow words, mere empty sounds. The words in the general conversation of society and in the popular literature of the day are empty, shells without a kernel, mere husks without grain. But the words of inspired men are full, brimful, full of light and full of power.

1. The greatest thinkers have failed to exhaust their meaning.

2. Every modern thinker discovers new significance. Every paragraph has a continent of thought.

“There lie vast treasures unexplored,

And wonders yet untold.”

II. They are flowing. “A flowing brook.” The words of eternal truth are always in motion. They pulsate in thousands of souls every hour, and onward is their tendency.

1. They flow from the eternal wellspring of truth.

2. They flow through human channels. Divine wisdom speaks through man as well as through other organs. “Holy men spake as they were moved,” etc. The highest teacher was a man, Christ, the Logos. The words of His mouth were indeed as deep waters. Since Heaven has thus made man the organ of wisdom, it behoves man--

III. They are fertilising. They are here compared to “waters” and to “a flowing brook.” What water is to all physical life the words of heavenly wisdom are to souls. They quicken and satisfy.

1. It is a perennial brook. It has streamed down these centuries, imparting life and beauty in its course.

2. It is an accumulating “brook.” As brooks in nature swell into rivers by the confluence of contributory streams, so the brook of Divine truth widens and deepens by every contribution of holy thought. And never was it so broad and deep as now. (Homilist.)


Verses 6-8

Proverbs 18:6-8

A fool’s lips enter into contention.

The speech of a splenetic fool

How frequently Solomon speaks of the fool! and the fool in his idea was not an intellectually demented man, but a morally bad man.

I. It is querulous. “A fool’s lips enter into contention.” His ill-nature shows itself in his readiness to pick quarrels, to create frays.

II. It is provocational. “His mouth calleth for strokes.” They irritate the men they speak to, and often prompt to acts of violence.

III. It is self-ruinous. “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” Such speech is indeed destructive.

1. It destroys the man’s own reputation. A querulous man has no social respect or command; he is shunned.

2. It destroys the man’s own social enjoyment. He has no loving fellowships, no lasting friendships.

3. It destroys the man’s own peace of mind.

IV. It is socially injurious. “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” The talebearer as a rule is a man with a splenetic temperament; he delights in mischief. (Homilist.)


Verse 9

Proverbs 18:9

He also that is slothful in his work.

Indolence

Indolence is a stream which flows slowly on, but yet undermines the foundation of every virtue. It were as little hazard to be tossed in a storm as to lie thus perpetually becalmed; nor is it to any purpose to have within one the seeds of a thousand good qualities, if we want the vigour and resolution necessary for the exerting them. That the necessity of labour ought to be regarded as a punishment is a mean and sordid notion, invented by the effeminate, the lazy, and the vicious. On the contrary, if God had prohibited labour, such prohibition might justly have been deemed a token of His displeasure, since inaction is a kind of lethargy, equally pernicious to the mind and body. An effeminate Sybarite, we are told, thanked the gods very heartily that he had never seen the sun rise in his life. Can there be a more striking emblem of a narrow and unenlightened mind?--of a wicked and unprofitable servant?


Verse 10

Proverbs 18:10

The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.

The security of those who trust in God

I. Explain what is to be understood by “the name of the Lord.” No particular virtue or charm attaches to the sound or pronunciation of the name. In a mistaken veneration for the name the Jews refused to pronounce it at all. But a rash profanation of the name of God is unspeakably more criminal. By the name of the Lord we are to understand the Lord God Himself--His nature, as it is discovered to us in all His glorious perfection, particularly in His power and goodness to save and deliver them that put their trust in Him. Three principal ways by which God hath discovered Himself to mankind.

1. The visible creation.

2. The written Word.

3. The daily administration of His providence.

II. What is implied in the righteous running into the name of the Lord as a strong tower? The epithet “strong tower” conveys to the mind the idea of protection and defence. God’s almighty providence is the surest and strongest defence against all enemies of whatever kind, let their art, their activity, their malignity be what they will.

1. Running into the name implies the lively exercise of faith both in the power and the willingness of God to protect. It is only by faith that we can go to an invisible God. Faith, in applying the power and promise of God, receives very much strength from the examples of His mercy, either towards ourselves or others. The name is recorded in every page of the history of providence.

2. The righteous “runneth into the name” by the exercise of fervent prayer. Praying is the immediate and direct means of imploring the Divine assistance and protection. Faith is the habitual principle, and prayer is the actual application of it. Though God knows all our wants perfectly, He requires that we implore His assistance by prayer. And prayer is the natural remedy to which all are ready to fly in extremity.

3. The righteous “runneth into the name” by diligence in his duty; which implies three things:

III. The perfect security of the righteous.

1. Wherein does this safety consist? “Is safe” might be rendered “is exalted,” “placed on high.” God preserves them from dangers which they could not escape. They have the promise of strength and support in the time of trial. They are sure of deliverance in the end, and complete victory over all sufferings of every kind.

2. The certainty of it is based on the Divine perfections, on the faithful promises, and on the experience of the saints. Learn--

Two defences--real and imaginary

The two verses put side by side two pictures, two fortifications: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower”; that is so, whether a man thinks it or not; that is an objective truth and always true. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city,” because “in his own conceit” he has made it so. So we have on the one side fact and on the other side fancy. The two pictures are worth looking at. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.” Now, of course, I need not remind you that “the name of the Lord,” or “the name of Jesus Christ,” means a great deal more than the syllables by which He is designated, which is all that we understand generally by a name. It means, to put it into far less striking words, the whole character of God, in so far as it is revealed to men. So we have to recognise in that great expression the clearest utterance of the two thoughts which have often been regarded as antagonistic, viz., the imperfection, and yet the reality, of our knowledge of God. His name is not the same as Himself, but it is that by which He is known. Our knowledge of Him, after all revelation, is incomplete, but it is His name--that is to say, it corresponds to the realities of His nature, and may be absolutely and for ever trusted. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower,” which, translated into plain prose, is just this--in that revealed character there is all that shelterless, defenceless men can need for absolute security and perfect peace. We may illustrate that by considering either Him who defends or him that is defended. On the one hand, perfect wisdom, perfect love, perfect power, that endure for ever; and on the other hand, men weighed upon by sore distresses, crippled and wounded by many transgressions. These two, the defence and the defenceless, fit into each other like the seal to its impress, the convexity to the cavity. Whatever man needs, God is, and whatever dangers, dreads, pains, losses, sorrows, sins, attack humanity, in Him is the refuge for them all. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.” Do you believe that; and is it an operative belief in your lives? “The righteous runneth into it”; and what is that running into it? Neither more nor less than the act of faith. One of the words of the Old Testament which is frequently translated--and rightly so--“trust,” has for its literal meaning to flee to a refuge. So, says our teacher, the way to get into the fortress, and to have the solemn battlements of that Divine name round our unarmed and else shelterless weakness, is simply to trust in Him. But the word suggests the urgency and the effort that will always go with faith. “The righteous runneth into it”--not dawdles in it--“and is safe.” And that takes effort and means haste. Do not put off your flight. And stop in it when you are there, by that constant communion with the name of the Lord, which will bring you tranquillity. “In Me ye shall have peace.” Stay behind the strong bulwarks. But there is a formidable word in this old proverb. “The righteous runneth into it.” Does not that upset all our hopes? I need not say anything about the safety, except to make one remark. The word rendered “is safe “ literally means “is high.” The intention, of course, is to express safety, but it expresses it in a picturesque fashion which has its bearing upon the word in the next verse, viz., it sets before us the thought that the man who has taken refuge in the strong tower goes up to the top of it by the winding staircase, and high up there the puny bows of the foe below cannot shoot an arrow that will reach him. That is a truth for faith. We have to bear the common lot of humanity, but the evil that is in the evil, the bitterness that is in the sorrow, the poison that is in the sting, all these may be taken away for us. And now I need only say a word or two about the companion picture, the illusory imagination. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and a high wall in his own conceit.” It is very hard to have, and to be concerned about, and to use, the external good without putting our trust in it. The Bible has no foolish condemnation of wealth. And we all know, whether in regard to money, or to earthly loves, or to outward possessions and blessings of all sorts, how difficult it is to keep within the limit, not to rely upon these, and to think that if we have them we are blessed. What can we do, any of us, when real calamities come? Will wealth or anything else keep away the tears? What will prevent the sorrows, deal with the sins, or enable us to be of good cheer in the face of death and disease, and to say, “You cannot touch me”? Ah! there is but one thing that will do that for us. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.” The other man has “a high wall in his own conceit.” Did you ever see the canvas fortifications at some entertainments that they put up to imitate strong castles?--canvas stretched upon bits of stick. That is the kind of strong wall that the man puts up who trusts in the uncertainty of any earthly thing, or in anything but the living God. Let us keep ourselves within the Divine limits in regard to all external things. It is hard to do it, but it can be done. And there is only one way to do it, and that is by the same act by which we take refuge in the true fortress--viz., by faith and communion. When we realise that God is our defence, then we can see through the insufficiency of the others. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The name of the Lord a strong tower

It is essential that man’s hopes should rest on a firm basis.

I. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. Names have a twofold use--to distinguish and describe. Our names generally serve only to distinguish the individual. Sometimes, however, they describe as well as distinguish, and when this is the ease, their significancy is greatly increased. The name of God is descriptive; it describes the attributes of His character as revealed to us. What God is in Himself is implied in the name Jehovah, the existent. What the Almighty God is to His sinful and rebellious creatures is a matter of anxious inquiry. He is condescending, full of compassion, ready to forgive, slow to anger, yet by no means clearing the guilty. Such is the name of the Lord, which the text reminds us is a “strong tower.” A tower is a place built for shelter and security. Its strength consists in the durability of the materials of which it is composed. God’s name is called a strong tower, on account of the strength of the foundation on which they build who are sheltered within it.

II. The conduct of the righteous. He “runneth into it.” The real Christian is the one who is earnest in the pursuit of everlasting life. He is impelled by a sense of danger. He is animated by the hope of safety.

III. The safety of the righteous within the tower. He is safe from--

1. The assaults of the devil.

2. From the world.

3. From his own natural depravity.

4. From the accusations of the law.

5. From the accusations of conscience.

6. From the fear of death. (J. R. Shurlock, M. A.)

On trust in God

As a strong tower was considered, under the ancient system of warfare, to be a place of entire security from harm, this text is nothing else than a figurative manner of expressing the extreme importance of putting our whole trust in God. The reasonableness of this duty will appear if we consider the Divine perfections.

1. God’s unlimited power. It is proclaimed by the heavens, the work of His fingers, and by the earth, which He has suspended upon nothing. Everything declares that He is at least fully competent to our preservation and deliverance.

2. His particular providence, as displayed in the government of the universe. Even things which we are wont to regard as casual and trivial are subjected to His perpetual control.

3. His beneficence. He is ever ready to relieve and to bless. He is not only competent, He is willing to promote our good.

4. His tried and approved veracity “God is faithful, who hath promised.” In our intercourse with each other, experience is the basis of confidence, of mercantile credit, and of moral character. The same principle should lead us to place confidence in God. Two remarks to guard the subject from misconception.

Our strong tower

There are many war similes in the Bible.

1. Men mistake by resting satisfied with unstable and insecure bases. The sense of dependence is in every man so strong that no man can be happy quite alone, and leaning on nothing. Men try to satisfy themselves with one or other of three things.

2. Men cannot be truly strong for life until they have God behind them. To know a man is to apprehend all that makes up his individuality, or to “know his name.” So the “ name of God” includes everything that spheres Him as God: a just apprehension of God and His relations--a true knowledge of God. To know God in covenant is a strong tower. The “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” is God known through relationships and tried by experience. That God can be our “tower.” In Scripture, to know the name of any one implies familiarity and confidence; and to know God by name implies such confidence as makes Him to us a strong “tower.” To do anything in the name of another is to carry with you their authority, as with the ambassador or the old prophet. The name of God is a storehouse of wealth and strength, from which all recurring needs can be supplied. Then comes the moral force needed to deal with--

1. The attacks of life.

2. The defences of life.

3. The retreats of life.

Who can use this defence of God? Only the man whose purpose is to live the righteous life, and whose constant effort is to realise his purpose. (Weekly Pulpit.)

The name of the Lord

I. Christ is a Stronghold, for as such He has been appointed and ordained by God. Wisdom.

II. Christ is a Stronghold, because of the absolute perfection of His obedience, and the entire adequacy of His atonement. Holiness and justice.

III. Christ is a Stronghold, because God has actually accepted of His vicarious work. Faithfulness.

IV. Christ is a Stronghold, because as a King He hath sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Power.

V. The testimony of men--those “who have fled for refuge.” (James Stewart.)

Our Stronghold

Strong towers were a greater security in a bygone age than they are now. Castles were looked upon as being very difficult places for attack; and ancient troops would rather fight a hundred battles than endure a single siege. He who owned a strong tower felt, however potent might be his adversary, his walls and bulwarks would be his sure salvation.

I. The character of God furnishes the righteous with an abundant security. The character of God is the refuge of the Christian in opposition to other refuges which godless men have chosen; and as a matter of fact and reality. The purpose of God in our salvation is the glorifying of His own character, and this it is that makes our salvation positively sure; if every one that trusts in Christ be not saved, then is God dishonoured. His character is the great granite formation upon which must rest all the pillars of the covenant of grace, and the sure mercies thereof. His wisdom, truth, mercy, justice, power, eternity, and immutability, are the seven pillars of the house of sure salvation. This is true not only as a matter of fact but also as a matter of experience. Even when the Lord Himself chastens us, it is most blessed to appeal against God to God.

II. How the righteous avail themselves of this strong tower. They run into it. They do not stop to make any preparation. And the running implies that they have nothing to carry; and that fear quickens them. When a man enters a castle, he is safe because of the impregnability of the castle, not because of the way in which he entered into the castle.

III. Entering the strong tower is a joyous experience. For “is safe” the margin reads “is set aloft.”

1. This is a matter of fact. He is safe, for who can hurt him? Who has power to reach him? What weapon is there that can be used against him?

2. This is a matter of experience. The believer in his high days {and they ought to be every day) is like an eagle perched aloft on a towering crag. Yonder is a hunter down below, who would fain strike the royal bird; he has his rifle with him, but his rifle would not reach one-third of the way. So the royal bird looks down upon him in quiet contempt, not intending even to take the trouble to stretch one of his wings, for he is quite safe, he is up aloft. Such is the faithful Christian’s state before God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A place of refuge

In the ancient Greek states certain temples afforded protection to criminals, whom it was unlawful to drag from them, although the supply of food might be intercepted. As early as the seventh century the protection of sanctuary was afforded to persons fleeing to a church or certain boundaries surrounding it. In several English churches there was a stone seat beside the altar, where those fleeing to the peace of the church were held to be guarded by its sanctity. (Chambers’ Encyclopedia.)

The name of God a refuge

The name of God is his harbour, where he puts in as boldly as a man steps into his own house when taken in a shower. (H. G. Salter.)


Verse 12

Proverbs 18:12

Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.

Honour and humility

I. Explain the nature of genuine humility.

1. It does not consist in a mean and servile state of mind, in anything that is unworthy of the man or the Christian. Humility dignifies human nature; a spirit of servility degrades it. Some persons are naturally timid and faint-hearted. But this is mere human weakness.

2. It does not consist in indulging a low and dejected frame of mind, or in being pensive and sad on all occasions. Distance and reserve are so far from being the fruit of genuine humility, that they often proceed from pride and self-conceit.

3. There is what the Scriptures call a “voluntary humility” unrequired and unapproved. An apparently humble demeanour may consist with a haughty and aspiring spirit.

4. Genuine humility consists chiefly in the state of our hearts towards God. Here reason bows to faith, and interest to obligation.

5. Humility consists in thinking of ourselves as we ought to think, and conducting ourselves accordingly.

6. Our humility will appear in the sentiments we entertain of others, of the behaviour we manifest towards them.

II. The honour with which Christian humility is accompanied.

1. It is the forerunner of just and worthy commendation. God exalts the low tree, and brings down the high.

2. Humility is a preparative for honour. A meek and quiet spirit is itself an ornament. It prepares the way for further honours.

3. Eternal honours shall be the gracious reward of true and genuine humility. God shall save the humble person. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Humility

The text contains a most certain truth; and yet it is in its proper and most extensive sense a truth we owe to revelation. The natural man is not fond of believing in the necessity of humility. He contends for the dignity of his nature, he asserts the sufficiency of his own powers. Unaided man has been able to discover a considerable number of important truths in the theory of morals. With the polished nations of antiquity morals formed a part of the science of government. They examined into morals, and erected systems of morals, not with a view to ascertain and lay down the duties of the man, but of the citizen. The Christian cannot expect much assistance from this quarter. As they do not rest on the right foundation, or aim at the right end, the ancient ethics are miserably defective, and often grievously false. In no part are they more delusive than in the estimate they teach men to make of themselves. H we turn our eyes upon the world around us, we shall readily find instances of the connection between pride and ruin. Pride leads men to make an offensive assumption of superiority. We know the infatuating nature of pride. It may be illustrated by the career of the first Napoleon. It is not less certain that “before honour is humility.” Nothing more frequently leads men to situations of respect and eminence than modesty and diffidence. Every man of merit is so conscious of his deficiencies, he judges himself so severely, he adopts such an elevated standard of excellence, that he ever thinks hardly of himself. Thinking people know this, and give their verdict accordingly. And it is the thinking part of society that allot to a man his reputation. And humility has an effect upon the man himself, in whom it prevails. The sense of the smallness of his attainments will drive him to make large attainments. And thus, as the cause is before the effect, so before honour is humility. Now apply the text to the spiritual life. Both in what regards faith, and in what regards practice, pride inevitably leads to ruin. No one is likely to attain truth on spiritual subjects who approaches them in a spirit of pride. The man who depends on his intelligence, who examines the objects of faith in a self-sufficient spirit, is quite sure to fall into infidelity or error. If the man whose heart is haughty does get to entertain orthodox opinions of religious truth, his opinions cannot profit him: the truth must enter his heart as a living principle before it can be of personal benefit to him. The very first effect which it has on the heart is to bring down the reign of pride. Whenever pride reigns in a heart, there the kingdom of God is not set up. When a sinner passes from a state of impenitence to a state of grace, the whole process will be attended by humility. And there is no growth in grace, there is no safety, without humility. The more we know of ourselves the more cause we shall find for humility. Humility is our security. When he distrusts himself, and thinks meanly of himself, the Christian is in the state most favourable for his advancement in faith and holiness. (J. G. Dowling, M. A.)

Pride and humility

When destruction walks through the land, it casts its shadow; it is in the shape of pride. When honour visits a man’s house, it casts its shadow before it; it is in the fashion of humility.

I. The vice of pride.

1. Describe pride. It is a groundless thing; a brainless thing; the maddest thing; a protean thing, ever changing its shapes.

2. The seat of pride. The true throne of pride is the heart of man.

3. The consequence of pride--destruction.

II. The grace of humility. A good man may have honour in this life. But God forbids our making that honour a cloak for pride,

1. What is humility? To think rightly of ourselves. Humility is to make a right estimate of ourselves. It is no humility for a man to think less of himself than he ought.

2. What is the seat or throne of humility? It is the heart. I hate, of all things, the humility that lives in the face. Cringing men that bow before everybody are truly proud men; humble men think of themselves so little, they do not think it worth while to stoop to serve themselves.

3. What comes of humility? “Before honour is humility.” Humility is the herald which ushers in the great King. He who has humility will have honour afterwards. Apply this spiritually. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 14

Proverbs 18:14

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?

Sustaining our infirmities

The sufferings of this life are not disproportioned to our strength to bear them. And the only evils that are intolerable and insupportable, are wholly owing to ourselves.

I. What is meant by sustaining infirmities? Infirmities here, being opposed to a wounded spirit, must signify only external sufferings, whatever is grievous by afflicting, excepting the disorders and troubles of our own minds. By sustaining infirmities is not meant that we must not feel them. It is to feel but not sink under the weight of them: as that man sustains his burden who can go upright, and not stagger, or at least not fall, though he feels the weight of it on his shoulders.

II. By what means can the spirit of a man sustain his infirmities?

1. By natural courage and strength of mind. There is an inbred greatness in human nature which does not care to confess its own weakness; an untaught courage which supports the rude and illiterate part of mankind, even without reason and discourse.

2. By the power of reason, which adds to our natural courage, and gives us a more confirmed sense of decency and honour. The mere power of natural reason and moral arguments cannot support us under all events; but reason is the strength of the mind, and it is the mind which must bear up under external sufferings. Nature furnishes us with a great many arguments to bear sufferings easily, without fainting.

3. By the arguments which religion furnishes us with. Refer to two: That whatever we suffer is not the effect of a blind chance or fatal necessity, but is ordered by a wise and good Providence. That if we bear our present sufferings with patience and submission to the will of God, and make a wise use of them to our improvement in grace and virtue, our very sufferings shall be greatly rewarded in the next world. If God sees pain and sickness, poverty and disgrace, necessary to cure or restrain our vicious and distempered passions, or to improve and exercise our graces, have we any reason to complain that God takes such severe measures to save our souls? This may be very grievous and afflicting at present, but then we have the hopes of immortal life to support us.

III. What is meant by “a wounded spirit”? This is a metaphorical expression, and signifies a spirit which suffers pain and trouble. A wound in the body is a division of one part from another, which is always painful; and though a spirit cannot be thus divided, yet because a wound causes pain, a spirit which is disordered and suffers pain is said to be wounded. Some men’s spirits are wounded with the disorders and violence of their own passions. They love, or hope, or fear, or desire, or grieve immoderately; and all passions are very painful when they are in excess. Other men’s spirits are wounded with a sense of guilt. Their own consciences reproach and shame them.

IV. How unsupportable a wounded spirit is! Anger, when it grows immoderate, worries the mind. An immoderate love of riches or honours or pleasures causes us infinite trouble, torments with an impatient thirst. All this is nothing to the agonies of a guilty mind. And moreover, a wounded spirit has no refuge or retreat, has nothing left to support itself with. The spirit of a man can bear his infirmities, but when the spirit itself is wounded, there is nothing to support that. This wounds our courage, our reason, makes all external comforts tasteless, and deprives us of all the comforts of religion. A wounded spirit cannot find any support from the considerations of religion unless it find its cure there. Useful thoughts:

1. This is a great vindication of the providence of God with respect to those evils and calamities that are in the world. God inflicts nothing on us but what the spirit of a man can sustain, but our greatest sufferings are owing to ourselves, and no more chargeable on the providence of God than our sins are.

2. This greatly recommends the Divine wisdom in that provision God has made for our support under sufferings.

3. It is better to suffer than to sin, even with respect to our present case, because sufferings may be borne by an innocent and virtuous mind.

4. The government of our own passions contributes more to our happiness than any external enjoyments. What a wrong course do the generality of mankind take to make themselves happy! They seek for happiness without, when the foundation of happiness must be laid within, in the temper and disposition of our minds. An easy, quiet mind will weather all the storms of fortune. But how calm and serene soever the heavens be, there is no peace to the wicked, who have nothing but noise and tumult and confusion within. (W. Sherlock, D. D.)

The burden of a wounded heart

This text presents a comparison between the grief that afflicts the outward man and that which preys upon the inward. What is meant in the text by “spirit”? In the soul of man is an upper and lower part; not, indeed, in respect of its substance, for that is indivisible, but in respect of its faculties. There is a higher and more noble portion of the soul, purely intellectual; and in operation, as well as in substance, perfectly spiritual, and this is expressed in the text by the term “spirit.” What is the import of the soul being “wounded”? This signifies nothing else but its being deeply and intimately possessed with a lively sense of God’s wrath for sin. The sense of the text lies full and clear in this one proposition, viz., that the trouble and anguish of a soul labouring under a sense of God’s displeasure for sin is inexpressibly greater than any other grief or trouble whatsoever.

I. What kind of persons are the proper subjects of this trouble? Both the righteous and the wicked; but with a very different issue in one and in the other.

II. Wherein does the strange, excessive, and sometimes supernatural greatness of it appear? We may gather this--

1. From the behaviour of our Saviour Himself in this condition.

2. From the most raised and passionate expressions that have been uttered from time to time, by persons eminent in the ways of God, while they were labouring under it.

3. From the uninterrupted, incessant continuance of it.

4. From the violent and more than ordinary manifestation of itself in outward signs and effects.

5. From those horrid effects it has had upon persons not upheld under it by Divine grace. Both history and experience testify what tragical ends men deserted by God, under the troubles of a wounded spirit, have been brought into.

III. By what ways and means this trouble is brought into the soul.

1. By reflections upon the Divine justice, as provoked.

2. By fearful apprehensions of the Divine mercy, as abused.

3. By God’s withdrawing His presence and the sense of His love.

4. These wounding perplexities are brought upon the soul by God’s giving commission to the tempter more than usually to trouble and disquiet it.

IV. What is God’s end and design in casting men into such a perplexed condition? God brings anguish upon the spirit of the pious and sincere for a twofold end.

1. To embitter sin to them.

2. To endear and enhance the value of returning mercy.

V. Draw some useful inferences from the whole.

1. Let no man presume to pronounce anything scoffingly of the present or severely of the final estate of such as he finds exercised with the distracting troubles of a wounded spirit.

2. Let no secure sinner applaud or soothe up himself in the presumed safety of his spiritual estate because he finds so much trouble or anguish upon his spirit for sin.

3. Let no person exclude himself from the number of such as are truly sincere and regenerate, only because he never yet felt any of these amazing pangs of conscience for sin. (R. South.)

On the wounds of the heart

There are two classes of good and evil belonging to man--those which respect his corporeal and those which respect his spiritual state. But it is not easy to convince men that the soul hath interests of its own, quite distinct from those of the body, and is liable to diseases and wounds as real as any which the body suffers, and often much more grievous. The natural vigour and courage of a man’s mind may enable him to surmount the ordinary distresses of life; but if, within him, the disease rankles in mind and heart, to what quarter can he look for relief? The spirit or soul of man is wounded chiefly by three causes--by folly, by passion, by guilt.

I. By folly. That is, by vain, light, and improper pursuits; by a conduct which, though it should not be immediately criminal, yet is unsuitable to one’s age, character, or condition in the world. Good sense is no less requisite in our religious and moral behaviour than it is in our worldly affairs. In this age of dissipation and luxury, how many avenues are open that lead to the Temple of Folly. If something happens to awaken persons of this description from their dreams of vanity, what mortifying and disquieting views of themselves will arise! Conscience now begins to exert its authority, and lift its scourge.

II. By passion. If by folly the spirit is wounded, it is exposed by passion to wounds still more severe. Passions are those strong emotions of the mind which impel it to desire, and to act, with vehemence. When directed towards proper objects, and kept within just bounds, they possess a useful place in our frame; but they always require the government and restraint of reason. When a man’s passions have been so far indulged, and left to run to excess, a dangerous blow has been given to the heart. The balance of the soul is lost. The case becomes infinitely worse if the passion which has seized a man be of the vicious and malignant kind. Over his dark and scowling mind gloomy ideas continually brood. The wounds given to the heart by ill-governed passions are of an opprobrious nature, and must be stifled in secret.

III. By guilt. If beyond being misled by folly or overcome by passion a man be conscious of having committed deeds of injustice or cruelty, deep and lasting is the sting which is sent into the heart. The voice of nature, of conscience, and of God will make itself heard within him. He will become despicable in his own sight. Remorse will prey the deeper on the bad man’s heart, if it should happen that there was a period in his life when he was a different man. Then let us learn--

1. To give the most serious and vigilant attention to the government of our hearts.

2. To join prayer to Almighty God, in addition to our own endeavours of guarding and governing our spirits.

3. That the great God hath already begun to punish bad men for their sins and vices. You see His hand in all that they are made to suffer by the “wounded spirit.” He has not delayed all retribution to another world. Let us hold fast by this truth, that every man’s real happiness or misery is made by the appointment of the Creator, to depend more on Himself, and on the proper government of his mind and heart, than upon any external thing. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)

The misery, causes, and remedies of a dejected mind

Render the passage thus: The spirit of a man (of a brave man) will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded (dejected) spirit, who shall raise it up? A caution is intimated against yielding too far to any misfortunes or troubles; against letting our spirits sink or our courage fail us in our day of calamity. A vigorous mind, a manly spirit, will support us under bodily infirmities within, or cross accidents without. The subject here is a troubled and dejected mind.

I. The misery of it. Not a wounded conscience only, but generally a mind wounded by grief and troubles. All manner of trouble and misery, as felt by the patient, is resolvable into pain of body or pain of mind; into some uneasy sensations, which we commonly call anguish. What an advantage, in all kinds of uneasinesses, to have a mind well fortified and steeled against them. Strength of mind and fortitude are of admirable use to repel uneasiness and pain, and to prevent its making any deep and durable impressions. The spirit of a man, while firm and erect, becomes a kind of armour of proof against either inward pains or untoward disasters. When the spirit sinks, every calamity puts on the blacker face, and every pain and uneasiness stings to the quick, and is much increased with galling reflections The mind is haunted with dark images. The man sits down and indulges his sorrow, hugs his grief, abandons himself to impatience, bitter wailing, and despair, refusing to be comforted.

II. The causes which lead to this melancholy extremity. The occasional and immediate causes of this malady are either from without or from within. The outward calamities of life are many and various. A second cause is the sense of some grievous sin lying hard upon the conscience. The greatest calamity that can be is an ill-spent life. There is such a thing as religious melancholy--bodily indisposition, which is frequently the sole cause of a broken, dejected mind.

III. Prescribe some proper remedies or preservatives. Natural courage, inborn strength of mind, is one of the best preservatives. Rule

1. Trust in God and live a life conformable to the doctrine of Christ.

2. Sit as loose as possible to the world; weave and disentangle the affections from temporal things. If we can be content with a moderate share of temporal prosperity, we shall be the less concerned at disappointments, and of consequence the better prepared to meet afflictions and to bear up under them. Other inferior rules are, agreeable company; good books; employment in an honest calling; innocent diversions, and the like. Rely rather upon faith, a good life, and a good conscience consequent thereon; together with fixed and constant meditations upon the joys of a life to come. If ye do these things ye can never fail. (D. Waterland, D. D.)

A wounded spirit

I. What is meant by “a wounded spirit”? A guilty and self-condemning conscience arising both from a sense of sin and of the danger which a man by sinning has brought himself into.

II. Why is a wounded spirit so grievous and unsupportable?

1. It imports a sense of sin in offending against the light and conviction of our own minds.

2. In offending against the majesty of a gracious and good God.

3. A sense of danger in provoking the justice of an angry and avenging God. The spirits of men are often wounded, and their thoughts afflicted, at a sense of the present shame and sufferings which their evil courses bring upon them. The following are crimes which, in their own nature are attended with uneasy and stinging reflections:

III. Though the condition of such a person is so deplorable, it is not hopeless or desperate. By the grace of God means are left for his recovery. That faith which, according to the terms of the gospel, justifies a sinner, and is reckoned unto him for righteousness, imports a firm belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and that His sufferings and death upon the Cross were a true and proper expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Let us apply the benefits of that general expiation Christ made for the sins of mankind to our particular persons. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)

Sustaining infirmity

I. A sound spirit is what will relieve under outward infirmities and troubles.

1. When may the spirit of a man be said to be sound? When it is renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God. A holy soul is a healthful one. There is a natural soundness or stoutness of spirit which is not easily discouraged or broken by external trouble or pain. There is a moral soundness of spirit when enlightened conscience hath nothing gross to upbraid a man withal. A sound spirit is one pardoned through the blood of Jesus, and through Him restored to the favour of God. It is in some measure comforted with a sense of God’s love, and its own safety for eternity.

2. Show that every man has his infirmities. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” “Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.” The term “infirmity” denotes what afflictions are, both in their nature and tendency, viz., weakening things. And man has no ability to prevent their coming, nor to free himself from them when they come.

3. How far will a sound spirit sustain under these? The man does not hereby become insensible. But a sound spirit will be a praying one; it will not let go its hope in God of a blessed issue, either in this world or a better; it will keep something of cheerfulness. This sound spirit is not alone; it has the Spirit of God with it. And this Spirit proves a comforter and helper, by leading the afflicted Christian into an aquaintance with what is written in the Word, and what has been wrought within himself.

II. A wounded spirit is itself a burden, under which there is no standing without relief given from heaven.

1. The spirit or soul in man may be wounded. There is such a thing as a grieved soul as well as a pained body. There is a bitterness peculiar to the heart which can only be understood by God and itself. A wounded spirit is one filled with anguish from a sense of sin.

2. When, and in whom, may the spirit be wounded. Either before conversion or after. The soul of the sinner is wounded that Christ may be rendered precious and amiable to it, and bring it to close with Him upon His own terms; that it might be filled with a greater hatred of sin; that, when it is healed, it may be the more enlarged in thankfulness towards its gracious God. The distress of a wounded spirit will for ever be an argument of love to God and Christ, and it will put others upon considering what they are liable to suffer on account of sin in this world, besides the death which is the wages of it in another. The spirit is wounded in such as God is about to recover to Himself, to make and keep them humble all their days. By the distress that goes before recovering grace God will encourage His people’s trust in Him in after-trials. What compassion is due to such as know by experience the insupportable burden of a wounded spirit! (D. Wilcox.)

A wounded spirit

Writing of General Grant’s last days, General Badeau says: “The physicians constantly declared that although the cancer was making irresistible advance, it was not the cancer that produced the exhaustion and nervousness which, unless arrested, would bring about death very soon. It was only too plain that the mental, moral disease was killing Grant--it was the blow which had struck him to the dust, and humiliated him before the world, from which he could not recover. He who was thought so stolid, so strong, so undemonstrative, was dying for a sentiment--because of the injury to his fame, the aspersions on his honour.” (J. F. B. Tinling.)

The torture of a wounded conscience

As long as Adam maintained a conscience pure towards God, he was happy; but having once taken the forbidden fruit, he tarried a while there, but took no contentment therein; the sun did shine as bright, the rivers ran as clear as ever they did, birds sang as sweetly, beasts played as pleasantly, flowers smelt as fragrant, herbs grew as fresh, fruits flourished as fair; no punctilio of pleasure was either altered or abated; the objects were the same, but Adam’s eyes were otherwise. Such is the torture of a wounded conscience, that it is able to unparadise paradise, and the burthen thereof so insupportable, that it is able to quell the courage and crush the shoulders of the hugest Hercules, of the mightiest man upon the face of the earth: who can bear it? (J. Spencer.)

Grievances of the spirit

These are of all others most heavy and grievous to be borne; these make sore the shoulders which should sustain the other infirmities. If the spirit be wounded by the disturbance of the reason, dejection under the trouble, whatever it is, and despair of relief; if the spirit be wounded by the amazing apprehensions of God’s wrath for sin, and the fearful expectations of judgment and fiery indignation, who can bear this? Wounded spirits cannot help themselves, nor do others know how to help them. It is therefore wisdom to keep conscience void of offence. (Matthew Henry.)


Verse 15-16

Proverbs 18:15-16

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge.

The attainment of knowledge and the power of kindness

I. The attainment of knowledge. “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge,” etc. It is suggested by the words that the attainment of knowledge requires two things.

1. A heart for it. “The heart of the prudent.” There must, at least, be in every “heart,” a consciousness of its need. The opinionated, self-sufficient man, who is wise in his own conceit, will never get knowledge. Though the sun of knowledge shine around him, its beams cannot enter him. All the shutters of his mental house are so closed by self-sufficiency that no rays can enter. A sense of ignorance is the first step to the attainment of knowledge.

2. An effort for it. “The ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.” The ear is one of the great inlets. Wisdom does not come into the soul unless it is searched for as a “hidden treasure.” Whilst all this is true of general knowledge, it is especially true of Divine knowledge.

II. The power of kindness. “A man’s gift maketh room for him and bringeth him before great men.” There are two kinds of gifts, the gift of selfishness and the gift of kindness. A man sometimes bestows a favour on another in order to get back something of a higher value. This gift is a bribe. The gift of kindness is the true gift and the real power. It makes room for the giver in the heart of the receiver, and it bringeth him before truly great men. Great men recognise and honour the generous.

1. Kindness is the mightiest power.

2. Kindness is the Divinest power. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

A man’s gift maketh room for him.

Giving: a study in Oriental manners

In the East the custom of giving gifts affects all the relationships of life--domestic, social, commercial, political, and religious. It is difficult in lands of law-defended liberty, democratic representation, and freedom of the press to realise how much is awanting where these are absent, and how great an importance comes to be attached to the means and resources by which, when right cannot be legally enforced, promises may nevertheless obtain fulfilment, the indifferent be made interested, the alienated reconciled, and the powerful and rich become considerate and gracious. It is in this connection that the giving and receiving of gifts plays a prominent part. Amid much variety as to the occasions of giving, and the character of the things given, there are two principal uses. The first and fundamental meaning is affectionate and sincere, and owes its popularity to the warm and impulsive feelings of the people within a certain area. It is the expression and proof of the sincerity of love (2 Corinthians 8:8). The second is utilitarian. “A man’s gift maketh room for him.” The abounding hypocrisy that surrounds this second meaning is a tribute to the reality and strength of the original affectionate meaning thus simulated. For illustration we must turn to the circumstances in Oriental life that make gift-giving popular and expedient. To the visitor to the East, beset on all hands by demands for backshish, “a present,” the principle of gift-giving seems to be the summary of Oriental life and all its institutions.

I. Family life. Here the giving of gifts is pleasant and unconstrained: the proof of the abundance rather than merely the sincerity of love. Special occasions are birth, betrothal, marriage, recovery from sickness, and return of a member of the family from a journey. Money is freely given and lent, the refusal of it being considered shameful, and causing alienation not easily forgotten. A favourite gift is that of jewellery or clothing taken from the person and given to a friend to be a constant memorial of the absent, and a proof that he will be treasured in the heart even as his body is now encased in the clothes of his friend.

II. Social life. Public life is conducted, as far as possible, on family lines. The family is not merely an inner circle of affectionate devotion; it is also a guild of common interests. A daughter is, if possible, married among her relatives. A father putting his son in a shop or office says to the manager, “He is your son,” implying complete authority over him and regard also for his welfare. The Oriental laws of neighbourhood teaching sympathy, toleration, and helpfulness spring from the family. The conditions of industrial life and the patriarchal form of government have further tended to develop the habit of giving gifts, making an affectionate act the means of attaining mercenary ends, and leading the way to bribery, intrigue, and dishonesty. The Oriental landowner has always paid his labourers in kind--giving them a certain portion of the produce. It is a gift out of what is his personal estate. The sheikh or emir of the leading family further protected the peasantry from the marauding Bedouin, “the children of the East,” and presents given to him were a grateful acknowledgment of protection and prosperity. Such gifts, putting the receiver in the position of a benefactor, easily took the form of blackmail, and the omission of them was a grave discourtesy. Thus David regarded Nabal after having protected his shepherds. Starting from the simple conditions of pastoral and industrial life, the habit became resorted to wherever dignity had to be flattered or favourable intervention was needed. To the Oriental litigant the chief thing is to obtain the judge’s personal favour, and a present to him seems a more direct and effective outlay than feeing counsel and collecting witnesses. Even when the judge is known to be intelligent and upright, Orientals pay respect and send presents to the personal friends of the judge in order that they may use their influence with him. Thus, even under the rule of David, Absalom could spread sedition and discontent by declaring how he would revolutionise the administration of the land. Absolute freedom from this taint was a chief item in Samuel’s testimony as to his own official life.

III. Religion. The claims of religion are much more intimately interwoven with common affairs in the East than they are in the West. There is nothing of Sunday segregation. All business prosperity is publicly declared to be from God, whatever may be the means taken to obtain it. Two sentences especially are often seen written over shop doors, “Prosperity is in God’s hand,” and “ This is also from the grace of my Lord.” Street beggars recognise this, and pause for a gift when they see a purchase being effected. Something is due to them as a share of the profits from the same Lord. A beggar at the door does not plead his poverty or attempt to explain his circumstances, but pronounces the name of God, and says, “I am a guest at your door!” and if the door is not opened calls aloud, “You are also servants!” The beggar is seldom dismissed from the door with the declaration that there is nothing for him. He is told, “God will give you.” Similarly, the constant cry at the side of the street is, “God will bless you”; “God will direct your path”; “God will repay it.” The custom of giving gifts in its best and most sincere applications thus has its origin in duty to the family and indebtedness to God. Its adaptation to more social and public relationships is the result of these two. Indifference to family honour and the claims of religion makes the “profane person” or “fool” of the Bible. The unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is sharply silhouetted by the omission of these two principal regards. Orientally there was no third position such as that of an official acting justly for the sake of justice, although atheistical and immoral in personal life. (G. M. Mackie, M. A.)


Verse 17

Proverbs 18:17

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just.

The bias on the side of self

This proverb touches human life at many points, and human beings feel it touching them. It accords with common experience. It is true to nature--nature fallen and distorted. It does not apply to humanity in innocence. It has no bearing on the new nature in a converted man. This Scripture reveals a crook in the creature that God made upright. Self-love is the twist in the heart within, and self-interest is the side to which the variation from righteousness steadily tends. A man’s interest is touched by the word or deed of another; forthwith he persuades himself that what is against his own wish is also against righteousness, and argues accordingly. He states his own case, but he leans over to one side, and sees every-fixing in a distorted form. His case is both a sin and a blunder. In the statement of your case do you permit a selfish desire for victory to turn your tongue aside from the straight line of truth? There is room for improvement here, and improvement here would tell upon the world. If a man can detect exaggerations on one side and concealments on the other, amounting to untruthfulness in their general effect, it shows that the fear of God was not before the eyes of the witness when he omitted his evidence. To walk with God in the regeneration is the short and sure way to rigid truth in all your intercourse with men. The adversary will find nothing if a greater than he has been there before him. (W. Arnot, D. D.)


Verse 19

Proverbs 18:19

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.

Physical power and moral power

In the early life of men and communities, the power most admired is physical power. Those who can conquer in the material world are the heroes of the young. Later, men think more of intellectual achievements. The greatest in the schools is the greatest in the world. In the maturest stage of life we are content with less conspicuous feats; for we see that the less may be greater. We deem it greater to conquer in the realm of moral life than in the field of nature or the area of intellect. The conqueror in the field of battle may be great, but the conqueror of the hearts of men is greater. A brother offended may be harder to win than the bars of a castle, but so much the nobler is the victory. To win men is a nobler achievement than the defeat of men’s bodies or the confounding of their minds. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)

Discords among brethren

No discords are like those of brethren; the nearer the union, the greater the separation upon a breach; for natural ties being stronger than artificial, when they are once broken, they are hardly made up again, as seams when they are ripped may be sown again; but rents in the whole cloth are not so easily remedied. (H. G. Salter.)


Verse 21

Proverbs 18:21

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

The power of speech

Of all the powers that man possesses there is scarcely any more awful than the power of speech. It is a God-like power. Human speech is no mere evolution from the cry of the animals. Speech became possible on the earth only when on the earth there appeared one into whom the Divine Spirit had breathed the breath of life, and made him a living soul. It is because the origin of speech is Divine that words have such awful power. Consider what a word is. From the materialist’s point of view, it is but a slight agitation of the particles of air around us. Nothing feebler, nothing more evanescent, can be conceived. Yet that word can make or mar a human life; that word can fill a home with gladness or despair.

I. Death is in the power of the tongue. How significant it is of the fallen condition of our race that death should here be put first! To prove the truth of our text, let us take some illustrations of the death-dealing power of the tongue.

1. Take the deadly power of careless, vain, frivolous words. They seem harmless. How much harm is done by the light and careless conversation even of Christian people about religion! How much damage is done by the far too common habit of jesting with Scripture! Such a habit induces irreverence, and lays the foundation for irreligion.

2. Take the deadly power of mocking words. A gibe, a sneer, cuts many a man like a knife. By the mocking words of companions many a soul who has just escaped has been forced back into the bondage of sin, and driven to a Christless grave.

3. As a graver illustration of the same thing, take the power of false words. While open and deliberate lying is reprobated by all, many have not a sufficient sense of the mischief wrought by falsehood and insincerity of speech. Every lie begets other lies; and from the thoughtless exaggerations of conversation to the deliberate perjury, which has in our day become so common in our law courts, the descent is quick and easy.

4. A still more serious illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is seen in connection with slander. Says Robertson, of Brighton, in a great sermon upon the tongue, “In the drop of poison which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole system, and convert night and day into a restless misery. So it is in the power of slanderous words to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, to poison human society at the fountain springs of life.”

5. But the supreme illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is found in indecent words. The man of indecent speech may be compared with the murderer. The one destroys the body, the other destroys the soul. If we would execrate the man who in the time of pestilence would smear the walls of a city with plague-poison, what shall we say of the man who defiles the temple of the soul with his indecent speech? To thousands and tens of thousands indecent speech is the revelation of a world of wickedness previously unknown. By it the imagination is defiled, the corrupt nature set on fire, the barriers that guard purity broken down, and the soul led to absolute ruin.

II. Life is in the power of the tongue. When the tongue is consecrated, when it is guided and controlled by a heart full of the Holy Ghost, it becomes a mighty power to destroy the works of the devil.

1. Grave and gracious speech takes the place of careless, light, and frivolous speech. Our words lead seekers to Christ, in Him to find eternal life.

2. Comforting and encouraging words take the place of mocking words. The power of words of comfort to encourage those who are sorrowing and desponding is simply marvellous. They literally bring life to the soul.

3. Kind words take the place of cruel words. Every kind word that is uttered makes this world more like heaven. For where slander begets hate, kindness begets love.

4. True words go forth to do battle against the falsehoods of which the earth is full. Every true word that is spoken binds human society more closely together, and makes the burden of life easier to bear.

5. And then pure words go forth to enlighten and purify and cleanse lives darkened and debased and defiled by the evils of the world. Before the man of pure speech the indecent man hides himself. Purity is like the sunlight. When it is let in upon the mind the evil and unclean things which dwell there flee, as noisome creatures under a stone flee from the light of day. But what is true of the tongue is true also of the pen. Literature to-day has a tremendous power. And who doubts that in countless instances it is a power making for death?

The power of the tongue

The faculty of speech is one of the very highest faculties with which we have been endowed. Great is its value to man as an intelligent and social being, and great is the weight of responsibility which is implied by the impression of it. Yet the Hebrew sage appears to have exceeded the fair limit allowable even to hyperbole when he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Yet there is nothing but what is strictly accurate in this sentence. Literally the words are, “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.” The author represents this faculty as a living thing--as the arbiter of good and ill, as the disposer of human fortune.

I. See the truth of the text in its application to the present life. As a maxim of common prudence the words deserve attention. There are some persons who never speak well of others. And fatal often is their cruel activity. Reverse the picture, and see happiness smiling about the man who speaks of others in the language of justice, and gentleness, and charity. Wherever he can he will bear his testimony to the integrity and good character of others. But our proverb does not merely apply to extreme cases, such as these. When a man speaks in mere thoughtlessness, there may be those hearing him on whom his very random words may be falling as a balm, or as a poison If we set any value upon the happiness and comfort of others, it becomes us to set a watch over our mouth. What we say is a most important influence on our own condition in this world, because our condition is greatly affected by what others think of us, and we know full well that it is not easy to struggle against the difficulties created by a bad character. The estimation in which we are held is very greatly affected by our words.

II. See the truth of the text in its bearing upon our spiritual condition. Spiritual death is the frequent and melancholy effect of the impious efforts of some men’s tongues. But life, too, is in the power of the tongue. The cause of God has never been without its noble band of witnesses. Important, however, as may be the effects of what we say on others, they cannot be greater than they are upon ourselves. A word may determine our condition for ever. Prayers, praises, and holy conversation, cannot be in vain--nor can curses, and railing, and idle talk, be in vain. It is greatly to be feared that we may find much that is amiss in ourselves, when we press our consciences with the question, Have we acted as those who believed that death and life are in the power of the tongue? (J. G. Dowling, M. A.)

The tongue, or well-speaking

As in the physical, so in the moral, the tongue is the criterion of the hidden and eternal man. Self-government alone can conform men to Christ, and there is no self-government where the tongue is untamed.

I. The tongue is a great blessing. The gift of speech is a valuable boon. The animal creation have it not. In man’s case, mind utters itself through matter. Spirit speaks through clay. Blessed boon, the gift of speech!--the richest melody of creation, the music of nature, the life of poetry, the vehicle of common sense, the incarnation of the soul’s contemplations.

II. The tongue is the servant of the heart. Strictly, the tongue never speaks at random. The tongue is the criterion of the moral man. A diseased or healthy heart is thereby truthfully advertised. While the mind is the standard of the man, the tongue is the standard of the mind. The apostle James regarded a wholesome tongue in so important a light that he came to the conclusion, “if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” With him it involved such mortification of nature, such growth in goodness, and such constant self-government, that he regarded the man who had mastered his lips as not far from perfection. Idle words betray a mind waste, worthless, and uncultivated; severe words, a mind savage and malicious; angry words, a mind set on fire of hell; whispering words, a mind cast in the mould of Judas; boasting or disparaging words, a mind stuffed with self-conceit; false and deceitful words, a mind which he who was a liar from the beginning has usurped as his pleasure-ground. Thus our daily sayings are our daily selves, and our words testify our inmost thoughts.

III. The tongue spoiled by sin is emphatically the stronghold of satan. No member of the body has done Satan more service than the tongue. Through all generations, how many of the best and most useful men have been assailed by calumnies. The sensual tongues, the flattering tongues, the sceptical tongues of bad men, and the strife of tongues among good men, have shown Satan to be the lord of language. The tongue is God’s organ, but beware lest the devil play upon it till in death it cyphers and is heard no more.

IV. The tongue can only be cured by the habitual contemplation of Christ. It is by looking unto Him, the author and finisher of our faith, by closely studying His excellences, and getting full of His Spirit, that we effectually keep the door of our lips against every ungodly and unamiable intruder. The tongues of Christians should be eminently instructive. They should also be comforters. And they should be, at proper times, reprovers. Keep the door of your lips. Be slow to speak, slow to wrath. (Mortlock Daniel.)

The use and abuse of speech

Religion requires much more than mere outward decency or refinement of manners. We gather from Scripture that we should order our speech with a view to the benefit of our fellow-creatures and the promotion of the glory of God. We must have regard to the moral character and consequences of our speech. Many people abuse the power of the tongue so incessantly that they cease to be aware what a depraved state of heart is thereby indicated. Inasmuch as God hears and notes our sayings, we bring good or evil upon our souls according to the manner in which the power of the tongue is employed. Speech forms part of character. There is an inseparable connection between what we say and what we think. Each man’s conversation has a distinct personality from which it cannot be divested. Thought awakens feeling, and feeling induces utterance. When a man speaks his character passes into action. By our words our own immortal future is affected, and we are continually exercising an influence upon the welfare of our neighbours. The power of the tongue is infinitely reproductive. Its effects are incalculable. And the guidance of our speech is a matter which deeply concerns us. Few of us can look back upon the past without a consciousness of having offended much with the tongue. The consideration of this subject shows the necessity of a gracious renewal of the heart. (A. B. Whatton, LL. B.)

The tongue an agency of good or evil

The tongue is a member which God has used to produce great misery or great blessing. As soon as thought is embodied in language, it assumes the form of a living engine.

I. The engine of counsel. If men be asked for counsel or advice, they can give it only in proportion to the knowledge they possess. Illustrate from the counsel given by the master of a family or by a public teacher.

II. The engine of slander. Slanderers include the backbiter, the gossiper, the keen anatomist. The mind of man is by nature eminently fitted for becoming the engine of slander.

III. As the engine of flattery. Men are more ready to forgive an ill done to them than an ill said of them. Men often entertain a higher respect for individuals who flatter them than for those who confer upon them a substantial benefit. There is such a thing as religious flattery. Even an advance in spiritual attainments may engender spiritual pride. Where there is spiritual prosperity there is a risk of becoming spiritually vain. (H. Melvill.)

The power of the tongue

Intellectual, spiritual, social, and political life and death are in the tongue. Apply the proverb--

I. To the Christian in general. He prays with the tongue. He confesses with the tongue. He converses with the tongue.

II. To the preacher of the gospel. The tongue of a true gospel minister produces life intentionally. The tongue of a true gospel minister may produce death incidentally.

III. To the Saviour of men. This is true of Him as a Teacher, as an Advocate, and as a Judge. Learn the awful responsibility attached to speech. Burner says of the incomparable Leighton, “In a free and frequent conversation with him for twenty-two years, I never heard him utter an idle word, or a word that had not a direct tendency to edification.” (John Sibree.)

Partisan misrepresentation

Three forms of misrepresentation may be indicated--

1. The suppression of facts essential to a right estimate of character. This is perhaps the most usual and most dangerous form of the evil. “No lie is so dangerous as a half-truth.”

2. The accepting of unverified rumour for fact. He who does this becomes an indorser of the rumour. A premium is thereby placed upon slander.

3. Direct fabrication of known falsehood. The evils of such misrepresentation are lasting and obvious.


Verse 22

Proverbs 18:22

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.

A happy marriage

At the outset these words strike two thoughts on our attention.

1. That celibacy is not the best mode of social life. Solomon means to say that it is a good thing to have a wife. Even in the state of innocence it was not good for man to be alone. “Celibate,” says Bishop Taylor, “like the fly in the heart of an apple, dwells in perpetual sweetness, but sits alone, and is confined and dies in singularity; but marriage, like the useful bee, builds a house and gathers sweetness from every flower, and labours and unites into societies and republics, and sends out colonies and feeds the world with delicacies, and obeys their king and keeps order, and exercises many virtues, and promotes the interests of mankind, and is that state of good things to which God hath designed the present constitution of the world.”

2. That monogamy is the true marriage. Solomon does not say, “He that findeth wives,” but “He that findeth a wife.” Though Solomon had many wives, he nowhere justified plurality. Duality appears everywhere, and throughout the universe is necessary. The text in its completeness teaches--

I. That a good wife is a good thing. Of a good wife, of course, the writer must be supposed to speak, for a bad wife is a bad thing. Manoah found a good thing in his wife ( 3:13). The patriarch of Uz does not seem to have found a good thing in his (Job 2:9-10). “A good wife” must be--

1. A good woman. A woman of chaste loves, incorruptible virtues, and godly sympathies and aims.

2. A suitable companion. A good woman would not be a good wife to all men. There must be a mutual fitness, a fitness of temperament, taste, habits, culture, associations.

II. A good wife is a divine gift. “Obtaineth favour of the Lord.” All good things are His gifts. Young men, be cautious of your choice of a companion for life. “When Themistocles was to marry his daughter, there were two suitors, the one rich and a fool, and the other wise but not rich; and being asked which of the two he had rather his daughter should have, he answered, ‘I had rather she should marry a man without money than money without a man.’ The best of marriage is in the man or woman, not in the means or the money.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)


Verse 24

Proverbs 18:24

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.

Duties to equals, neighbours, friends, husband, and wife

The carriage of equals to one another should be friendly and equal on both sides. Almost every relation gives love and benevolence a new cast and form, and calls for a new set of officers, new either for kind, measure, or manner.

I. Duties to those who are neighbours in situation to one another. So far as consists with the care of our own spiritual preservation and with all our engagements elsewhere, the sum of what we owe to our neighbours is to be as kind, useful, and beneficent among them as possible, strictly avoiding what may be to the hurt of any. To be courteous on all occasions of converse, and to be ready to do and return those good offices which tend to mutual protection and accommodation. We should strive to promote virtue and goodness in the places of our respective residence.

II. The duties of friendship. Friendship arises from a voluntary agreement or choice of persons, in other respects independent, to cultivate a familiar correspondence together. Contracting alliances is not properly a moral obligation, but rather a matter of private convenience and pleasure. Let the first rule be, to be agreed on the terms, and neither to raise nor take up expectations beyond the just intention and import of them. The second is for a person to use his utmost endeavours to answer the confidence he has suffered another to repose in him. Fidelity must be strictly maintained. A third duty is to observe a decency and respectfulness in our own language and behaviour to them, together with a candid interpretation of their words and actions. A fourth rule is that all flattery must be banished from friendship.

III. The duties of brothers and sisters. This relation is formed by nature itself. Nature, reason, and Scripture dictate that there should be a peculiar affection, with very kind effects of it, passing between those that are thus related together. Brethren should be specially careful to cultivate peace among themselves.

IV. The duties of the conjugal relation. A relation which comprehends all the sweets and endearments of the strictest friendship. The duties are--

1. Love to each other’s persons.

2. A strict care about maintaining peace.

3. The inviolable preservation of conjugal fidelity; a bond of equal obligation on the husband and on the wife.

4. Constant effort to promote each other’s interest as one common interest. The husband’s authority should be full of tenderness, condescension, and forbearance. (J. Hubbard.)

Human and Divine friendship

Here is a comprehensive doctrine of Christian friendship. Friendship is a principle of mutual interchange and mutual sacrifice. There can be no onesidedness, no selfish engrossment, no taking without giving. Selfishness is the death of social reciprocity and sympathy, as it is of piety to God. Christianity is not an abstraction. It is all in a person with every attribute of personal life and love. About all our other friendships there are some easily-reached and sorely-felt limitations. Turn, then, to the One Friend. His friendship never fails or disappoints for want of knowledge, or patience, or skill, or strength, or endurance. Putting together the two declarations of the text--that of the Christian lawfulness and mutual blessing of human friendship with that of the supreme attraction and fidelity of the Divine friendship of the Saviour, we have the ground for two or three great practical principles of almost universal application.

1. The Christian guidance we need in the choice of friends and the formation of friendships.

2. The Christian test of every friendship and every affection.

3. The Christian direction how to hold and handle these friendships so that they shall bear their part and yield their fruit in the ripening of character and the eternal life of the soul. (Bp. Huntington, D. D.)

Man’s clinging Friend

I. The relationship of a brother. A brother does sometimes stick close. The ties of blood are the last thing which prevents us from sinking into selfish atoms, or hardening into mere machines for minting money. Each relationship in the family has its own blessed meaning and duty. Brothers feel that their descent from one stock begets mutual alliances and obligations. But sometimes the links of brotherhood are broken. A brother in blood has sometimes been unbrotherly in will and in deed.

II. The more than brotherhood of a bosom friend. Probably the majority of men have friends nearer to them than blood-relations. Our kin are not always kind, whereas our friend is always our brother. There are less occasions for bickerings between friends than between brothers. Our friend is not with us constantly, and friendship loses none of its gloss by over-frequent contact. The superiority of friendship over brotherhood is due mostly to the fact that a “brother” may be a being apart, while a “friend” is a second self. Friends are one in kind, “moulded like in nature’s mint.” The true melodic charm of friendship lies in the devotion of both friends to the service of Christ.

III. The friend more than a brother can be no other than Jesus Christ. Christ alone has those elements of character which can make Him the clinging Friend. (F. G. Collier.)

Friendship

Man is a social being. Religion sanctions and encourages the unions to which nature prompts. Friendship has its inner and its remoter circles. The heart craves for intimate friends--those to whom it can confide its innermost thoughts, and to whom it can repair for sympathy and help in times of trouble. We have here the way to make friends and the strength of a true friendship.

I. The way to make friends. Reciprocity is the soul of friendship. No man can expect to be long cherished as a friend who does not reciprocate the feeling. At the basis of friendship must be confidence. You must place confidence in the man whom you desire to place confidence in you. Another essential ingredient of friendship is fidelity to the trust reposed in you. If you would wish others to be faithful to you, you must be faithful to them; you must never make that public which was intended to be private. Friendship involves the discharge of all the kind offices of sympathy and help. If you would wish others to sympathise with you in your troubles, you must be ever ready to sympathise with them. This is the way in which we are to make friends. We are to be to others what we wish them to be to us.

II. The strength of a true friendship. The words of the text are emphatically, but not exclusively, true of Jesus Christ. They here express a fact of ordinary experience. The ties of a true friendship are stronger than the ties of the closest natural relationship. In the absence of friendship the ties of nature are often very slender.

1. This is seen in times of adversity.

2. In times of moral delinquency and degradation.

3. A friend will encounter sacrifices and sufferings from which a brother will often shrink.

All that can be said about friendship when it exists between man and man is unspeakably more true when applied to Jesus Christ. We may learn from this--

1. The reason why many men are without friends. It is because they do not show themselves friendly.

2. That the best friend you can have offers you His friendship. And He makes the first advance.

3. Next to having Jesus Christ as your friend, the best friendships you can form will be with those who are in fellowship with Him. Then strive to make friends. (A. Clark.)

Companionship versus friendship

The word rendered “friend” is from a root which means “to delight in.” The word might be rendered “lover.” In the former clause of the verse read “companions,” in the latter clause “friend.” Then read the verse thus--“A man of companions breaks himself up, but there is a Friend more attached than a brother.”

I. The safeguard of companionship.

1. Indiscriminate companionships may meet with ingratitude.

2. They may involve injustice.

3. They may produce infidelity.

II. The satisfactions of friendship.

1. Friendship’s inspiration is to a higher purpose than companionship’s.

2. Its impulse is to a more unselfish relationship.

3. Its industry is seen in assuring a more enduring attachment. (C. M. Jones.)

Friendship

I propose to treat of friendship, which is one of the noblest and, if I might use such an expression, the most elegant relation of which human nature is capable. It tends unspeakably to the improvement of the mind, and the pleasures which result from it are most sincere and delightful. It is an observation of the best writers that friendship cannot subsist but between persons of real worth, for friendship must be founded upon high esteem; but such esteem cannot be--at least it cannot be rational and lasting--where there is not true moral worth. This is the proper object of esteem, and no natural advantages will do without it. Besides, in friendship there must be a certain likeness and content of soul, a content in the great ends and views of life, and also in the principal methods and conduct of it, and this content is effectually begotten and secured only by true probity and goodness; this is the same in every one, and forms the mind into the same sentiments, and gives it the same views and designs in all the most important affairs of life. Good spirits, therefore, are kindred spirits, and resemble one another. But what is principally to be considered is this, that no friendship can bind a man to do an ill thing. Friendship, then, must be built upon the principles of virtue and honour; and cannot subsist otherwise. But, in truth, a bad man is not capable of being friend; there is a certain greatness of soul, a benevolence, a faithfulness, an ingenuity, necessary to friendship, which are absolutely inconsistent with a bad moral character. But though every true friend be a good man, yet every good man is not fit to be a friend. A person’s character may be, in general, a good one, and yet he may want many qualities which are necessary to friendship; such as--

1. Generosity. Friendship abhors everything that is narrow and contracted.

2. To generosity must be added tenderness of affection. Jonathan loved David as his own soul. The friendly mind does, with great tenderness, enter into all the circumstances and sentiments of his companion; can be affected with all his cares and fears, his joys and sorrows. Everything is of importance to him that is so to his friend. And this tenderness of affection begets that strange but affecting harmony of souls, if I might term it so, like the cords of two musical instruments strained to the same key, where if one of them is touched any wise, the sound is communicated to the other. Where there is true friendship there must be an exquisite mutual feeling.

3. And when I have said that the affection must be tender, this is saying too that it must be undissembled. Sincerity in love is essential.

4. I add that there must be in friendship great openness and frankness of spirit; there must be communication of secrets, without reserve; unless that reserve necessarily arises from and is caused by friendship, for this sacred relation cannot bear any other.

5. But although a friend must be ingenuous and open-hearted, a man of simplicity, and whose very heart, if I might use the expression, is transparent to his friend, yet he must be discreet and prudent; capable of concealing from others what ought to be concealed; capable of managing, in anything that is committed to his care, with wisdom. Men must not be put to the blush, they must not suffer by their friends’ disingenuity; unfaithfulness is the very worst thing that can happen in friendship; and, next to that, weakness and imprudence, which, though they do not speak so bad a mind, yet may be the cause of as great mischief, and make it impossible for friendship to subsist.

6. Again, it is necessary to the character of a friend that he should be of a constant temper, directed by reason, and acting unchangeably according to its direction. A true friend is always the same; that is, his sentiments and conduct never change but when there is reason for it.

7. But there is one particular in which the firmness of a friendly mind is as much tried as in any other, and that is in resisting any solicitation to do a thing that may be in itself bad or indiscreet, or hurtful to him that desires it. What is right and fit must always be our rule, and we ought to observe it inviolably, not only because the obligation to this is superior to all the obligations of friendship, but also from principles of kindness and benevolence. Next to the firmness that ought to be maintained in denying what is hurtful, there ought to be a resolution in animadverting upon faults. This is the most friendly and useful office imaginable, and an office to which an affectionate mind does with difficulty bring itself. To admonish and rebuke is to put one to great pain, and whatever gives pain to a friend is gone about with reluctance and aversion: yet there is no true faithfulness when this is not done; and it is one of the noblest ends of friendship. Nor can anything give more satisfaction to an ingenuous mind than to be thus intimately related to one who, he knows, will use faithful freedom with him, and prudently animadvert upon all his weaknesses. But though strict virtue is necessary as the foundation of true friendship, and great freedom ought to be used in animadverting upon faults, yet intimate friendship does not bear any rigid severity, any haughty stiffness of manners. It expects sweetness, and gentleness, and condescendency, so far as innocence and virtue will allow.

8. Again, friendship abhors all jealousy--a disposition to be suspicious, where there is no just cause given. The temper of one that is fit to be a friend is frank and open; conscious of no ungenerous cunning in itself, it does not suspect it in others. And if any circumstance appears less favourable than one would desire, yet it puts the most candid interpretation upon it that may be; and will not entertain a bad opinion of a friend, nor break with him, without manifest proof of his doing what renders him unworthy that relation.

9. Lastly, there can be no fast friendship where there is not a disposition to bear with unavoidable infirmities and to forgive faults. There may be infirmities and culpable defects in characters which in general are good and worthy, and very capable of intimate and fast friendship; yet this cannot be without that generosity which overlooks little infirmities, and can fix upon excellent and amicable qualities (though blended with the others) as the objects of its esteem and friendship. This generosity we ought by all means to cultivate in ourselves, considering how much we need it in others, and how much we expect it. Seeing, then, that so many shining qualities are necessary to make a perfect friend, they must be very few who are perfectly qualified for that relation, and men should be very cautious in their choice--careful not to run into intimacies all of a sudden, intimacies fit to be used only in the highest friendship; not to run into them, I say, with persons who are not capable of friendship at all. As there cannot be too great caution in choosing an intimate friend, so there cannot be too great firmness in cleaving to him when well chosen. Providence gives nothing in mortal life more valuable than such a friend, and happy they who enjoy this blessing! But, to conclude the whole, let it be ever remembered that true friendship, this glorious union of spirits, is founded in virtue; in virtue, I say, in that only. It is this that begets a likeness in the most important dispositions, sentiments, business, and designs of life; it is this in which the attracting and cementing power consists, which we admire for its own sake, and love for itself; it is this only that will make friendships firm, and constant, and reputable; it is this only that will make present friendship truly gainful, and the remembrance of past intimacies pleasing. And as virtue must lie at the foundation of friendship, so all friendship ought to be considered and improved as a means of confirming and exalting our virtue. (Jas. Duchal, D. D.)

Friendship

I. There is such a thing, as friendship and human affection.

1. God has implanted in our nature a social principle.

2. There are certain qualifications, distinctions, and relations that give scope to this principle.

3. There have been surprising instances of friendship among mankind.

II. The wisdom and goodness of Providence in thus ordering things.

1. It keeps society together.

2. The pleasures that attend its exercise.

3. It makes us in a humble degree like God.

4. It is suited to our state both in this world and another.

III. This friendship is imperfect.

1. Peculiarities of natural temper.

2. Clashing of interests.

3. Incapacity to help.

4. Want of religion.

5. Distance.

6. Short duration.

Conclusion:

1. What reason to admire the Divine wisdom and goodness!

2. It is a duty we owe to our Maker and our fellow-creatures to cultivate this.

3. Let us not depend on human friendship. (T. N. Toller.)

Making friends a gift

When Abraham Lincoln was a young man starting in life, it used to be said of him, “Lincoln has nothing--only plenty of friends.” To have plenty of friends is to be very rich--if they are the right sort. Those are indeed blessed who have received from God this gift of making friends--a gift which involves many things, but, above all, the power of going out of one’s self and seeing and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.

There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

The faithful Friend

The two most eminent philosophers of pagan antiquity saw in friendship little more than a calculation of benefits which it might be supposed to confer, and scarcely recognised at all the possibility of its possessing a disinterested character. Plutarch affirmed that in his time friendship did not exist any longer even in families; that it had once existed in the heroic ages, but was now confined to the stage. The moral condition of a nation must have become corrupt below the point of recovery, when so Godlike a relation as that of friendship can be so discountenanced, depreciated, and suspected. It is not Christianity which has created friendship, but Christianity has lifted it up and transfigured it. Even in our common life we meet with friends who are better to us than even our relations; but certainly the text does emphatically describe the character of One who is pre-eminently the Friend of man, the Friend of sinners, and the Friend of saints. The history of brothers, as exemplified in the Scriptures, is somewhat disheartening. (Illustrate by Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; and Joseph’s brethren.) Still, few things are more common than implacable feuds between brethren. There are jealousies of brotherhood.

I. The love of our best Friend is disinterested. All love, according to some, is a thing of interest. But there certainly is friendship which loves, not for what one can get out of the other, but which loves the other for his own sake. There are friends who live in each other. And surely we may say that the love of Jesus is a disinterested one. He left the world in which lie is, and was, God over all, not to seek His own happiness, but ours. His friendship for us would have been noble and disinterested had His mission involved in it no humiliation and no suffering. Whatever God does for man must be spontaneous and disinterested, springing from a will which nothing can coerce, and from a benevolence which finds its highest joy in the holiness and happiness of those whom it seeks to bless. The recompense which Christ sought was not His own exaltation, but the joy of seeing others rescued, redeemed, purified, glorified.

II. It is an intelligent friendship. It is based on knowledge, a complete knowledge of us. The foundation of many friendships is not the rock of knowledge, but the sand of ignorance. They are the creations of a mere impulse, the result of a casual meeting in circumstances which revealed neither friend in his real character. But Christ does not throw around us a glamour of fancy in which we seem better than we are. He knows what is in man. He knows the worst of us. It is a friendship in which there is every conceivable disparity, and yet He sticketh closer than a brother.

III. The friendship of Christ is marked by its fidelity. And what is a friendship worth that does not possess this property? If friendship has its pleasures, it has also its obligations, which must be fulfilled if friendship is not to degenerate into a soft and contemptible acquaintanceship without nobleness or true advantage. The only bond of certain friends seems to be one of mutual flattery. To love one’s friend means far more than to love his comfort and self-complaisance. To tell men of their faults is the luxury of enemies but the duty of friends. Now, the friendship of Christ is one which never neglects this essential duty. Many of the deepest and most sorrowful mysteries of your life may some day be explained by a single word--the faithfulness of Christ.

IV. His friendship is marked by its constancy. Few friendships have sufficient vitality in them to extend from youth to old age. Many friendships are but summer friendships. The friendship of Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He does not break off from us because we are not all we should be to Him. There is a limit to all our earthly friendships, a limit to their power, a limit to their help. If we need friendship on this side of the grave, how much more shall we need it on the other side. So we say, “Seek not friends that die, or whom you must leave, but seek for One who never dies, and whom you can never leave.” (Enoch Mellor,D. D.)

Christ closer than a brother

Christ has shown His friendship towards us--

1. In His incarnation, and in His death for us. He is a brother born for adversity, the adversity that comes through sin.

2. By tendering to us the means of grace.

3. By protecting us and providing for us so long. He is “a very present help in our time of trouble.” In temptation He has opened a way of escape, and in affliction He has sent a Divine Comforter. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)

Christ our friend

The following excellent qualities of Christ, as a Friend, may serve to recommend and endear Him to our hearts:

1. He is an ancient Friend. Who can declare the antiquity of this friendship? Is it ancient as the incarnation? Is it ancient as His baptism? Is it ancient as the prophetical or patriarchal age? Nay, it is older than time itself. It is from everlasting.

2. He is a careful Friend. It was the psalmist’s complaint, “No man careth for my soul.” But the Christian has a Friend who cares for him.

3. He is a prudent Friend. Our best earthly friends may err through ignorance or mistake; but this Friend “abounds in all wisdom and prudence.”

4. He is a faithful Friend. Friends frequently prove false, and sad indeed it is when they prove like a brook in summer. Some men are not to be trusted. Those in whom you confide most will be ready to betray you soonest. But Christ is faithful in all His promises.

5. He is a loving Friend. Friendship without love is like religion without love; a friendless and inconsistent--a cold, unmeaning, and impossible thing. Christ’s love is said to surpass the love of women.

6. He is a constant and unchangeable Friend. His compassions fail not. Our Friend is a Friend for ever. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” “Having loved His own, He loveth them to the end.” If Christ is our Friend, we may rest satisfied. All things will work together for our good. (D. McIndoe.)

Jesus, the true Friend

I. Reasons why it is most desirable that the young should secure the friendship of Jesus.--

1. His great knowledge about us and all future events makes His friendship most desirable.

2. His extraordinary power.

3. His vast undying love. I do not care for that friendship which is based upon selfishness, or which tries to secure mere personal ends. The love of Jesus is the root, the foundation, of His friendship. Love is the most sacrificing principle in the world. No one ever yet saw all the spirit of sacrifice there was in the love of Christ, and how He ever sought our good, our pardon, our happiness, our heaven, our glory. Love is not only the sweetest and most lovely power, but also the strongest in the universe.

4. His truth to His engagements.

5. Sad consequences must arise if the friendship of Jesus be not secured.

II. How should we act in reference to such a Friend?

1. We must do what will please Him. The little word “do” must be written in good, fair characters in our hearts, in our efforts, and in our lives.

2. We must on all suitable occasions acknowledge His friendship.

3. We must go direct to this Friend in all our troubles, as well as with all our joys.

4. We must faithfully look after His interests. Solomon says that this Friend “sticketh closer than a brother”; and they are the wisest who resolve to stick the most closely to Jesus, through sunshine and through shower, through life and through death. (J. Goodacre.)

A faithful Friend

Cicero has well said, “Friendship is the only thing in the world concerning the usefulness of which all mankind are agreed.” He who would be happy here must have friends. Yet friendship has been the cause of the greatest misery to men when it has been unworthy and unfaithful.

I. Christ is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

II. The reasons why we may depend upon Christ as being a faithful Friend.

1. True friendship can only be made between true men, whose hearts are the soul of honour.

2. Faithfulness to us in our faults is a certain sign of fidelity in a friend.

3. There are some things in His friendship which render us sure of not being deceived when we put our confidence in Him.

4. The friendship that will last does not take its rise in the chambers of mirth, nor is it fed and fattened there.

5. A friend acquired by folly is never a faithful friend.

6. Friendship and love, to be real, must not lie in words, but in deeds.

7. A purchased friend will never last long.

III. An inference to be derived from this. Lavater says, “The qualities of your friends will be those of your enemies; cold friends, cold enemies; half friends, half enemies; fervid enemies, warm friends.” Then we infer that, if Christ sticks close, and is our Friend, then our enemies will stick close, and never leave us till we die. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The friendship of Christ

I. The value of the friendship of Christ.

1. He is a Friend to His people, and does for them more than what the strongest earthly friendship can dictate.

2. His Divine friendship is free from those imperfections which lessen the comfort of human intimacy and attachment.

II. I am to recommend the Saviour to your attention, admiration, and acceptance.

1. The personal excellences He inherits.

2. The unspeakable blessings He bestows.

III. Let us now direct you to the improvement of what has been said.

1. This subject suggests important directions to believers in Jesus.

2. I shall now conclude with addressing men in different situations.

Friendship

(a sermon to children):--

I. How are we to hold our friends? Friendliness preserves friendship. But what is friendliness?

1. A friendly man is a sincere man. True, trustworthy, transparent in character. Mocking and deceitful men, like Mr. Facing-both-Ways, are never loved and trusted. By their duplicity and insincerity the Stuarts lost a kingdom, and King George I, who succeeded them, and prospered and won the affection of the great English people, was once heard to say, “My maxim is, never to abandon my friends, to do justice to all, and to fear no man.”

2. A friendly man is frank and generous. A story is told of Demetrius, one of the conquerers of Athens, that shows the power of generosity in making friends. After the glorious victory Demetrius did not harass and humiliate the inhabitants of the beautiful city, but treated them generously. Commanding his soldiers to fill the empty houses of the citizens with provisions, they wondered at his goodness, and fear grew into love.

II. Who is the noblest friend?--“There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” What a faithful friend was Jonathan to David!

1. In Jesus we have a royal Friend, possessing treasures, and crowns, and kingdoms such as no earthly monarch owns.

2. In Jesus we have a generous Friend.

3. Jesus is a constant Friend. Some people use their friends as shipwrecked sailors use their rafts, as masons use scaffolding, as gardeners use clay in grafting trees. They neglect them or fling them away whenever they have served their selfish purposes. But Jesus is a steady Friend, “Ever faithful, ever true.” He will never leave us nor forsake us. After bidding farewell to all his relations, President Edwards, when dying, said, “Now, where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?” And immediately the “Friend born for adversity” came and led him through the valley of the shadow, and gave him a place among “the shining ones” in our heavenly Father’s home. (J. Moffat Scott.)

An invisible Friend

Not able to conceive of an invisible Friend! Oh, it is not when your children are with you, it is not when you see and hear them, that they are most to you; it is when the sad assembly is gone; it is when the daisies have resumed their growing again in the place where the little form was laid; it is when you have carried your children out, and said farewell, and come home again, and day and night are full of sweet memories; it is when summer and winter are full of touches and suggestions of them; it is when you cannot look up towards God without thinking of them, nor look down toward yourself and not think of them; it is when they have gone out of your arms, and are living to you only by the power of the imagination, that they are the most to you. The invisible children are the realest children, the sweetest children, the truest children, the children that touch our hearts as no hands of flesh ever could touch them. And do you tell me that we cannot conceive of the Lord Jesus Christ because He is invisible? (H. W. Beecher.)

Christ a personal Friend

What made so great a difference? Of two friends of Alexander the Great, the historian Plutarch calls one Philo-Basileus, that is, the friend of the King, and the other, Philo-Alexandros, that is, the friend of Alexander. Similarly, some one has said St. Peter was Philo-Christos, the friend of the Christ, but St. John was Philo-Jesous, the friend of Jesus. This touches the quick: Peter was attached to the person who filled the office of Messiah, John to the Person Himself. And this is a distinction which marks different types of Christian piety in all ages. The Christ of some is more official--the Head of the Church, the Founder of Christianity, and the like--that of others is more personal; but it is the personal bond which holds the heart. The most profoundly Christian spirits have loved the Saviour, not for His benefits, but for Himself alone. (J. Starker.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 18:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/proverbs-18.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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