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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Proverbs 20

 

 


Verse 1

Proverbs 20:1

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

The evil effects of drunkenness

I. It deadens every moral sensibility. And what is the evidence of the drunkard himself? On his own declaration, are the principles of virtue as vigorous in his heart now as before? Is he as sensible of delight in contemplating the morally sublime, as much shocked with the morally deformed, as much grieved and disgusted with the depraved and licentious?

II. It impairs every intellectual faculty.

III. It accelerates death.

IV. It entails misery on families.

V. It terminates in everlasting destruction (1 Corinthians 6:10). (The Weekly Christian Teacher.)

Strong drink deceptive

The characteristic of strong drink is deceitfulness,

1. A great quantity of precious food is destroyed that strong drink may be extracted from the rubbish.

2. The curative and strengthening properties of our strong drinks, which are so much vaunted, are in reality next to nothing.

3. Strong drink deceives the nation by the vast amount of revenue that it pours into the public treasury.

4. In as far as human friendship is, in any case, dependent on artificial stimulant for the degree of its fervency, it is a worthless counterfeit.

5. Its chief deception lies in the silent, stealthy advances which it makes upon the unsuspecting taster, followed, when the secret approaches have been carried to a certain point, by the sure spring and deathly grip of the raging lion. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Mischief and folly of drunkenness

I. The mischief. To the sinner himself. It mocks him, makes a fool of him, promises him that satisfaction which it can never give him. In reflection upon it: it rages in his conscience. It is raging in the body, putting the humours into a ferment. Pretending to be a sociable thing, it renders men unfit for society, for it makes them abusive with their tongues and outrageous in their passions.

II. The folly. He that is deceived thereby, that suffers himself to be drawn into this sin, when he is so plainly warned of the consequences of it, is not wise: he shows that he has no right sense or consideration of things; and not only so, but he renders himself incapable of getting wisdom; for it is a sin that infatuates and besets men and takes away their heart. (Matthew Henry.)

Total abstinence

The following story is told of General Harrison, one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States, in connection with a public dinner given him on one occasion: “At the close of the dinner one of the gentlemen drank his health. The General pledged his toast by drinking water. Another gentleman offered a toast, and said, ‘General, will you not favour me by taking s glass of wine?’ The General, in a very gentlemanly way, begged to be excused. He was again urged to join in a glass of wine. This was too much. He rose from his seat and said in the most dignified manner: ‘Gentlemen, I have twice refused to partake of the wine-cup. I hope that will be sufficient. Though you press the matter ever so much, not a drop shall pass my lips. I made a resolve when I started in life that I would avoid strong drink. That vow I have never broken. I am one of a class of seventeen young men who graduated together. The other sixteen members of my class now fill drunkards’ graves, and all from the pernicious habit of wine-drinking. I owe all my health, my happiness, and prosperity to that resolution. Would you urge me to break it now?’”

Better sink than drink

A clergyman complained to the late Sir Andrew Clark of feeling low and depressed, unable to face his work, and tempted to rely on stimulants. Sir Andrew saw that the position was a perilous one, and that it was a crisis in the man’s life. He dealt with the case, and forbade resort to stimulants, when the patient declared that he would be unequal to his work, and ready to sink. “Then,” said Sir Andrew, “sink like a man.”

Abstinence favourable to health

The working man’s capital is health, not wealth. It does not consist in landed property, but in sinew and muscle; and if he persist in the use of intoxicating liquors they will strike at the very root of his capital--a sound physical constitution. After this is lost he becomes unfit for the workshop, for no master will employ a man who wants capital. He has then to repair to the poorhouse or infirmary. (J. Hunter.)

Water the best drink

“The best of all drinks for the athlete,” says Dr. Richardson, “is pure water. The athletic lower animals--the racehorse, the hound, the lion, the leopard--thrive well on water, because their bodies, like our own, are water engines, as steam engines are, and that, too, almost as simply and purely.”


Verses 1-30

Verse 3

Proverbs 20:3

It is an honour for a man to cease from strife.

The law of honour

The rules of life by which men are ordinarily governed are the law of honour, the law of the land, and the law of God. It is the object of religious institutions and instruction to uphold the last of these as the supreme and universal rule. In doing this, it is sometimes necessary to bring the other two into a comparison with it, as standards of duty and right. There ought to be no opposition between the law of the land and the commandment of God, and no contradiction to either of them in the sentiment of honour. The word “honour,” in its original idea, signifies respect or praise. It is that tribute of good opinion, which attends a character thought to be commendable. It is the external expression of the respect which is conceived to be due. The man of true honour is the man of real desert--the man who has this sense of character because he is conscious that his integrity of purpose and uprightness of life give him a claim to the honour which is always rendered to such a character. His sense of honour is sense of desert, rather than desire of reputation. Proceeding from this origin, it will appear that the characteristic ideas comprised in the sentiment of honour are, self-respect and respect for others. Such a man, valuing himself on the dignity of his nature, which others have in common with himself, conducts himself toward them as he desires that others should do toward him, in the spirit of apostolic injunction, “Honour all men.” He thinks himself less disgraced by its omission on their part than on his own. He is rather ready to defer to others, agreeably to the other injunction, “In honour preferring one another.” He yields, in this spirit of mutual respect, something to his fellows beyond what he thinks it necessary to insist on receiving. It is thus a generous spirit: it always consults the feelings of others; desires their happiness; guards their reputation; shuns wrong toward any one as the first disgrace; strives for right as the chief honour. Taken in this sense, the sentiment in question is a suitable one for man, and seems to have been designed in the constitution as one of the guardians of his virtue. When thus enlisted on the side of right it becomes a high instinct, prompting to spontaneous rectitude, and causing an intuitive shrinking from whatever is unworthy and base. It contradicts no law of man, and is in harmony with the law of God. But, at the same time, from its intimate connection with what is personal in interest and feeling, it is greatly exposed to degenerate into a false and misguiding sentiment. And so it has, in fact, happened. Connecting itself with the notions of character which prevail by chance in the community, rather than with the rule of light and of God, it has erected a false standard of estimate, and kindled a light that leads astray. Thus honour comes to bear the same relation to virtue that politeness does to kindness; it is its representative; it keeps up the form and pretension when the principal is absent; and, for all the ordinary purposes of the superficial social system of the world, it is accounted quite as good as that which it stands for. This, then, is the first objectionable trait in the world’s law of honour as a rule of life; it is deceptive and superficial; it is a thing of appearance only, and not a reality. And from this the descent is natural and easy, down to the next ill quality. Setting the value which it does on appearance, it finds the object of right gained by seeming to be right; then the heinousness of wrong may be avoided by concealing the wrong. The man has learned to act, not with a view to doing right, but with a view to reputation--sometimes even for the appearance of having the reputation. Thus it appears that a man of worldly honour may be guilty of a certain degree of baseness and crime without inconsistency and without compunction, if he have but the skill to keep it from being known. It is not wonderful that it should soon follow from this that he may be guilty of certain sorts of baseness and crime openly, and yet not forfeit his reputation. And such is the fact. One may be a gambler to a certain extent, and actually ruin a friend and drive him to despair--yet no impeachment of his honour. He may be unprincipled in his expenditures, so that the poor whom he employs shall be unable to obtain of him their just dues; he may revel in luxury, while defrauding the mechanics and tradesmen on whose ingenuity and toil he lives--yet no impeachment of honour. He may be a known debauchee, trampling on the most sacred rights and affections of his own home; he may, by a process of deliberate, heartless cunning and fraud, bring down an humble beauty to hopeless disgrace and misery; he may be, on a very trivial offence, the murderer of his friend--yet not one nor all of these crimes, accompanied as they are with what is mean and base, takes from him his claim to be treated as a man of honour.

1. The spirit of worldly honour is thus evidently characterised by selfishness. Its fundamental idea is a reference to what the world will think of me; my reputation, my standing--how are they affected? What will secure them in the eyes of the world? Everything must give way to this paramount consideration. I must secure my own good name among those with whom I move, come what may. It is amazing what deeds are done in consequence!

2. It is equally distinguished for its jealousy. Selfishness is always jealous. It cannot have anything of sincere and generous confidence in others. The man whose rule of life is to refer everything to its bearing on its own reputation, to weigh all the words and looks of other men with a view to discover whether they sufficiently acknowledge his claims to consideration acquires thereby an unreasonable sensitiveness of feeling, nourishes an uneasy spirit of jealous suspicion, is annoyed by slight causes, and offended by trifling inadvertences.

3. Thus jealous and revengeful, it is not surprising that the system in question should be despotic also. Such tempers are always so. It rules with arbitrary, inexorable, uncompromising sway. It allows no wavering, no relenting, no appeal. The slave is not mere entirely deprived of his right over his own limbs and labour than the devotee of honour is deprived of a right to his own judgment in all things within her province. He is in the hands of the ministers of honour, and they allow him no retreat. He must go on by that rule which he has adopted. The terrors of disgrace and ruin await him if he draw back. And thus, willing or unwilling--like a victim to the sacrifice--he is led out and immolated on the altar at which he had been proud to worship. This is the consummation to which the system leads. The duel is its tribunal and its place of execution. Worthy close of the progress we have described! It is fit that what began in meanness should issue in blood. The pulpit, beneath which so many young men sit while forming the characters by which they are to influence their country and their fellow-men during many future years of active and public life, would be false to its momentous trust if, at such a moment as this, it failed to lift its warning cry; if it did not attempt to disabuse their minds of the delusive fascination with which the reckless spirit of worldly honour is too often invested. The halls of learning, where Philosophy teaches, and Science utters truth, and Christianity communicates the law of brotherhood and love, would be unworthy of their lofty place if they did not resound with the proclamation that all those great and deathless interests denounce and abhor the masked impostor that, under the name of honour, opens to the aspiring young the highway of sin and death. And therefore it is that I have sought to tear away its disguise and expose its deformity; therefore it is that I would bring forward in its place the true honour, founded in right--exercised in self-respect and respect for all--faithful to all trusts alike--fearing only God. Let the future men of our country hear, and make it theirs. (H. Ware, D. D.)


Verse 4

Proverbs 20:4

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

The present and the future

The present is intimately related to the future; and the future will faithfully reflect the character. Here is a principle from the operation of which none can escape. Life stands in the same relation to eternity as the time of ploughing does to the harvest. If this life is spent in neglect of the soul, there will be eternal poverty.

I. Life’s ploughing-time, or the period of preparation.

1. Note, that life is the seed-time is universally recognised and taught. The armer knows the time for preparing the soil, and is himself responsible if he does not improve it.

2. The ploughing-time is short, not too long if it is all well spent; the seasons quickly succeed each other. How short is life--

3. Though short, it is long enough. Life is short; there is no time to lose, but to each is given space for repentance.

4. Unlike the farmer, who may miss one harvest but secure the next, our opportunity once lost never returns.

II. The paltry reasons assigned as an excuse for neglect. “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold.” It is palpably unreal, the true reason is unconfessed; but it is found in the fact that the man is a sluggard--he loves not his work. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The sluggard in harvest

This saying inculcates the lesson that men should diligently seize the opportunity whilst it is theirs. The sluggard is one of the pet aversions of the Book of Proverbs. The text contains principles which are true in the highest regions of human life. Religion recognise the same practical common-sense principles that daily business does.

I. The principles which are crystalised in this picturesque saying.

1. Present conduct determines future conditions. Life is a series of epochs, each of which has its destined work, and that being done, all is well; and that being left undone, all is ill. What a man does, and is, settles how he fares. The most trivial act has an influence on all that comes after, and may deflect a man’s whole course into altogether different paths. There come to each of us supreme moments in our lives. And if, in all the subordinate and insignificant moments we have not been getting ready for them, but have been nurturing dispositions and acquiring habits, the supreme moment passes us by, and we gain nothing from it. The mystic significance of the trivialities of life is that in them we largely make destiny, and that in them we wholly make character.

2. The easy road is generally the wrong road. There are always obstacles in the way to noble life. Self-denial and rigid self-control, in its two forms--of stopping your ears to the attractions of lower pleasures, and of cheerily encountering difficulties--is an indispensable condition of any life which shall at the last yield a harvest worth the gathering. Nothing worth doing is done but at the cost of difficulty and toil.

3. The season let slip is gone for ever. Opportunity is bald behind, and must be grasped by the forelock. Life is full of tragic might-have-beens.

II. Flash the rays of these principles on one or two subjects.

1. In business, do not trust to any way of getting on by dodges, or speculation, or favour, or anything but downright hard work.

2. In your intellects. Make a conscience of making the best of your brains.

3. In the formation of character. Nothing will come to you noble, great, elevating, in that direction unless it is sought, and sought with toil. Don’t let yourselves be shaped by accident, by circumstance. You can build yourselves up into forms of beauty by the help of the grace of God.

4. Let these principles applied to religion teach us the wisdom and necessity of beginning the Christian life at the earliest moment. There is a solemn thought still to consider. This life, as a whole, is to the future life as the ploughing-time is to the harvest. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

A beggar in harvest

No life is really secular. The sanctification of our labour for the bread that perisheth is one of the purposes of our holy religion. The principles set forth in this text in relation to earthly business have also their application to the spiritual life.

1. Human co-operation is necessary in the beginnings of the religious life. God does not save men as a rule by sudden movements of His Spirit upon their souls without their co-operation with Him. Spiritual ploughing consists of self-examination in the light of God’s Word, followed by self-condemnation, the confession and renunciation of sin, and the other exercises of repentance.

2. Human co-operation in the Divine life is necessary all the way from the beginnings of repentance up to the throne of glory.

3. The text teaches not only the necessity for diligence, but also for courage. The sluggard was afraid of the cold.

4. The ploughing must be done at the right season. Youth is the best time for spiritual ploughing. (G. A. Bennetts, B. A.)

The soul-sluggard

The words “sluggard” and “sluggish” are the same derivation. We speak of sluggish water, stagnant, covered with green, breeding disease and death. What a contrast to a fountain of clear, sparkling water, dancing in the sunlight, quickening everything it touches into life! The soul’s harvest is in eternity. Why does the sinner neglect preparation for this harvest? Let us look at a few of his reasons.

1. He says that his heart is “cold”; he has not the proper feeling. He forgets--

2. The sinner urges, “The Church is ‘cold.’” He says, “No one speaks to me about my soul.” Does the traveller at the railway station wait till the train starts and the ticket-office closes because “no one speaks to him”? It is frivolous reasoning, that because Church members fail in their duty I have a right to fail in mine.

3. It is even urged by the impenitent that God is “cold”--indifferent to their salvation. They wait until He is ready--until He moves upon their hearts.

Observe--

1. The reasons urged by the impenitent are but shallow pretexts to hide their disinclination. The man would not plough because he was a sluggard.

2. “Therefore,” says the text, “shall he beg.” The begging is the effect of a sufficient cause. Eternal death is not the result of an accident.

3. They that beg in harvest shall beg in vain, “and have nothing.” The prayer of Dives was not answered. (P. S. Davis.)

Good effects of honest and earnest toil

I. Plenty. We must not think that diligence is only manual; it is also mental. It implies thought, forethought, planning, arranging. The general rule is that they who work obtain the things needful for this life, at least in sufficiency.

II. Power. It is industry, rather than genius, which commends us to our fellow-men, and leads us to positions of influence and power.

III. Personal worth. It is diligence, the capacity of taking pains, that gives to a man his actual worth, making him compact and strong and serviceable. The greatest gifts are of little worth, unless there is this guarantee of the conscientious and intelligent employment of them. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)

Duty sacrificed to convenience

There are two powers constantly pressing their claims on men: those of duty and convenience. These two generally come into collision here. The sacrificing of duty to convenience is an immense evil, because--

I. It involves a sacrifice of the cultivating season. Sluggard neglects the seed-time. It is so with men who postpone their day of religious decision. The whole of their earthly life is intended as a season for cultivation. But a very large portion of the cultivating season is already gone. The residue of their time is very short, and very uncertain.

II. Because it involves a disregard of existing facilities. The sluggard had everything else necessary to cultivate his land. He disregarded all, because it was rather cold. It is so with those who are putting off religion.

III. Because it involves the decay of individual qualification for the work. The qualification for any work consists in a resolute determination, and a sufficiency of executive energy. While the sluggard was waiting, these two things were decreasing.

IV. Because it involves the loss of great personal enjoyment. He would lose the joy arising from fresh accessions of manly power; from the consciousness of having done his duty; a freedom to engage in any other affair; prospect of reward.

V. Because it involves a certainty of ultimate ruin. Destitution. Degradation. Misery of these enhanced by their being--

1. Self-created.

2. Unpitied.

3. Irretrievable. Physical indolence brings physical ruin, moral indolence moral ruin. (Homilist)
.


Verse 5

Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.

The getting of wisdom from the wise:

I. Wisdom to man is a very valuable thing.

1. It improves the sphere of his being.

2. It improves the power of his being.

II. Sane men are favoured with more wisdom than others. The difference in the amount of men’s intelligence arises from the difference in their capacities, proclivities, and opportunities for mental improvement.

III. Those who have the most wisdom are generally the most reserved. Where knowledge dwells in large quantities, it is not like water on the surface that you can get at easily; it is rather like water that lies fathoms under earth--clear, beautiful, and refreshing--got at only by the pump, or the windlass and bucket. It has to be drawn out.

IV. In consequence of this reservedness of the most wise, it requires sagacity in others to draw it forth. Even Christ Himself felt that He could not unfold what was in Him, on account of the ignorance and the prejudice of His auditory. (D. Thomas, D. D.)


Verse 6

Proverbs 20:6

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man, who can find?

On goodness and fidelity

I. What are we to understand by “goodness” and a “faithful man”?--Goodness often means the Whole of a virtuous or religious temper. In Scripture it is sometimes limited to good affections, and the proper expression of them in our conduct. Goodness here is kindness; and a “faithful man” is one sincere and steady in goodness, who really feels benevolent affections, and is uniform and constant in the practical exercise of them.

1. He is “faithful in goodness,” whose general conduct is kind and beneficent. He is affable and courteous in his ordinary conversation, and never without necessity deliberately says that which may hurt or offend. He does not withhold his bounty till it is wrung from him by importunity. His friendly offices reach men’s spiritual necessities.

2. He is “faithful in goodness” whose goodness flows from an inward, a sincere, and a religious principle. Goodness sufficiently diffusive in its objects and exercises can only be the fruit of the Spirit of God.

3. The man “faithful in goodness” is steady, constant, and persevering in doing good. Important services to others often require much of diligence, self-denial, and disinterestedness. He does good, expecting nothing again.

II. What is suggested when it is said, “A faithful man, who can find”?

1. He reminds us that this is a character not to be found among unconverted sinners.

2. Faithfulness in goodness is uncommon.

3. Fidelity in goodness in a strict sense, and in full perfection, is not the character of the best saints on this side the grave.

III. Solomon’s maxim, that “most men will proclaim every one his own goodness.” Men are prone to disguise their true characters under a deceitful mask, and profess sentiments and affections to which their hearts are utter strangers. There are some who, in proclaiming their own goodness, cannot be charged with gross hypocrisy. They are self-deluded. Let every one press after the fidelity in goodness, to which every false display of it is opposed. (John Erskine, D. D.)

Self-applause and self-consistency

I. The commonness of self-applause. See it in nations; in churches. Pursue the subject more personally.

1. The profane. These say they mean well; their hearts are good; they are liberal, etc.

2. The Pharisees. What attempts they make to recommend themselves to others!

3. The orthodox. Those who pride themselves on their orthodoxy.

4. The godly. These are often guilty in a measure.

II. The rareness of self-consistency. A man faithful--

1. In his civil concerns.

2. In his friendly connections.

3. To his trusts.

4. To his convictions.

5. To his religious professions.

Enough has been said--

Subtle self-praise

Some, quite as vain, and as ambitious of commendation and praise, knowing that everything of the nature of ostentation is exceedingly unpopular, set about their object with greater art. They devise ways of getting their merits made known so as to avoid the flaw of ostentatious self-display. In company they commend others for the qualities which they conceive themselves specially to possess, or for the doing of deeds which they themselves are sufficiently well known to have done; and they turn the conversation dexterously that way; or they find fault with others for the want of the good they are desirous to get praise for; or they lament over their own deficiencies and failures in the very points in which they conceive their excellence to lie--to give others the opportunity of contradicting them; or, if they have done anything they deem particularly generous and praiseworthy, they introduce some similar case, and bring in, as apparently incidental, the situation of the person or the family that has been the object of their bounty. Somehow, they contrive to get in themselves and their goodness. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

A prevalent vice and a rare virtue

I. A prevalent vice. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness.” Self-conceit--men parading their imaginary merits. It is seen in the religious world, in the way in which certain men get their subscriptions trumpeted in reports, and their charitable doings emblazoned in journals. It is seen in the political world.

1. This vice is an obstruction to self-improvement. The man who prides himself on his own cleverness will never get knowledge; who exults in his own virtue will never advance in genuine goodness. Vanity is in one sense the fruit of ignorance.

2. This vice is socially offensive. Nothing is more offensive in society than vanity.

3. This vice is essentially opposed to Christianity. What says Paul? “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” What says Christ? “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”

II. A rare virtue. “But a faithful man, who can find?” What is faithfulness? The man who in this verse is called faithful is in the next represented as just, “walking in his integrity.” Each of the three terms represents the same thing.

1. Practically true to our own convictions. Never acting without or against them.

2. Practically true to our own professions. Never breaking promises, swerving from engagements. Now this is a rare virtue. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Self-laudation

It magnifies and multiplies matters. Loud was the lie which that bell told, hanging in a clock-house at Westminster, and usually rung at the coronation and funeral of princes, having this inscription about it:--

“King Edward made me,

Thirty thousand and three,

Take me down and weigh me,

And more you shall find me.”

But when this bell was taken down at the doom’s-day of abbeys, this and two more were found not to weigh twenty thousand. Many tales of fame are found to shrink accordingly. (W. Fuller.)


Verse 7

Proverbs 20:7

His children are blessed after him.

The just man’s legacy

1. Anxiety about our family is natural, but we shall be wise if we turn it into care about our own character. If we walk before the Lord in integrity, we shall do more to bless our descendants than if we bequeathed them large estates. A father’s holy life is a rich legacy for his sons.

2. Our integrity may be God’s means of saving our sons and daughters. If they see the truth of our religion proved by our lives, it may be that they will believe in Jesus for themselves. Lord, fulfil this word to my household! (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 9

Proverbs 20:9

Who can say, I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?

Purity of heart

I. Who can say, i have made my heart clean? We read of some who have clean hands, which implies an abstinence from outward sins. A clean heart implies more than this; it relates to the inward temper and disposition, to the bias of the will, and the various operations of the affections, as being spiritual and acceptable in the sight of God.

1. Purity of heart is much to be desired.

2. It is the work of the Spirit alone to impart it.

3. There is so much self-righteous pride and vanity in man that many are apt to think they have made their hearts clean.

II. Who can say, i am pure from my sin? To be pure from sin is similar to our being in a state of sinless perfection. This no one ever enjoyed in the present life, except Him only who “knew no sin.”

1. Who can say that they were never defiled with original sin, or that they are now free from that defilement?

2. Who can say that they are pure from inward sins, the evils of the heart?

3. Who can say that they are wholly free from practical evil in life and conversation?

4. Who can say they are free from every besetting sin, or that they are not defiled with any of those evils to which they are more especially exposed by constitutional habits, or by their occupation or immediate connections. As no one can say with truth that he is pure from his sin, what reason have the best of men to be abased before God! (B. Beddome, M. A.)

The duty of mortification

The trial and examination of our hearts and ways in reference to God is a duty which, though hard and difficult, is exceedingly useful and beneficial to us.

I. The duty of mortification. The cleansing of our hearts, to be pure from sin.

1. The nature of the action. Cleansing. A word implying some change and alteration that is to be made in us. That which is purged was formerly impure. God is pure; the saints are purged and purified. This shows us the nature of sin: it is a matter of uncleanness. Uncleanness is a debasing quality; a loathsome quality; a thing odious in itself and for itself. Cleansing shows the sovereign virtue of grace and repentance. It is of a purging virtue. It hath a power of cleansing us from the pollutions of sin. It is compared to clean water, which washes away filth. To a wind, which, passing, cleanseth. To a fire, that consumes dross and corruption.

2. The property of the agent. The text makes us agents in this great work. Sin is cleansed in our justification, when it is pardoned and forgiven. The act of forgiveness is God’s alone. Sin is cleansed by mortification, and regeneration, and conversion. The progress of these acts God works in us, and by us. His Spirit enables us to carry forward this work which He graciously begins, and to cleanse ourselves.

3. The circumstance of time. “I have cleansed.” Mortification is a work of long continuance; it requires progress and perseverance.

II. The object that must be wrought upon. “The heart.” The whole man must be cleansed, but first and specially the heart. The heart is the fountain and original from whence all other uncleannesses do stream and flow. The heart is the lurking-hole, to which sin betakes itself. The heart is the proper seat and residence of sin.

III. The measure or degree of mortification. “I am pure from my sin.” This is the high aim that a Christian must set to himself, to press forward to perfection. The text lays our sin at our own doors, and so it concerns us to rid ourselves of it. Sin is the offspring of our will. There is the sin of inbred and natural inclination; the sin to which our particular age disposes us: childhood is idle, youth wanton, age covetous; the sins of our calling and vocation: every calling has its special temptations.

IV. The difficulty of mortification. This question, “Who?” is not meant for all sorts of sinners. It is not propounded to the profane man, to the grossly ignorant man, or to the negligent and careless man. The question reaches to the best sort of men, those that have made good progress in this work of cleansing and mortification, who, nevertheless, are condemned by their own consciences; who have still leaven to purge out; find some sins of surreption will steal in upon them. As to the question itself. It runs thus: “Who can say?” Not “Who doth say?” or “Who will say?” or “Who dare say?” We may safely resolve the question into a peremptory assertion, and conclude that no man is clear or free from sin. The earnest Christian can say, “Through grace I have broken the strength and dominion of sin.” (Bp. Brownrigg.)


Verse 10

Proverbs 20:10

Divers weights and divers measures; both of them are alike abomination to the Lord.

Caveat venditor

I. Dishonesty in trade is various in its forms. “Divers weights and divers measures . . . and a false balance.”

II. Dishonesty in trade is offensive to God.

1. Dishonesty is known to Him: His eye is on our business transactions, and no names or pretences, however plausible, can deceive Him.

2. Dishonesty is abhorred by Him. It is “an abomination unto the Lord.”

III. Dishonesty in trade is great folly and sin. This seems to be the idea of the latter clause of Proverbs 20:23 : “A false balance is not good.” The man who is dishonest for gain sacrifices--

1. The greater for the less.

2. The spiritual for the material.

3. The eternal and permanent for the temporal and uncertain.

4. The Divine for the worldly. Dishonesty is arrant folly; the man who gains by fraud is a great loser.

Conclusion:

1. Transact business by the rule laid down by our Lord (Matthew 7:12).

2. Transact business as in the sight of God. (W. Jones.)

Short weights and measures

All pound weights do not draw 16 ounces. Every yard stick is not quite 36 inches long. There are multitudes of things short weight, and not a few short measure. If all men were weighed and measured, some of us would need to be placed under short sticks, or require a big “make weight” to bring us up to the right standard. Besides men, there are things not quite full measure. Many things sold and used in Manchester, you may depend upon it, would be “short measure,” especially when compared with the standards the excise officers are in the habit of carrying about with them. I have met many men that would weigh 14 stone, but if you try to weigh their common sense it would not reach 14 ounces. There are hundreds of men whose tailors may be able to tell you how much cloth it would take to cover them; their shoemakers could tell you that their feet measured 9, 10, or 11 inches in length; but if you tried to measure all their good deeds--deeds of kindness done at home--deeds of sympathy to those who are poor--acts of love and mercy such as angels delight to see, and God smiles upon--you could do it with a 35-inch stick. And the misfortune is that these people are always the tall talkers. Talking does little work. Talking, minus doing, is minus weight. But there are some men that weigh too much. When I was a lad I used to see butter sold that was called “long weight.” Well, what was that? Eighteen ounces to the pound. I have met men more than 18 ounces to the pound. If they are workmen they can do twice as much as others in the same time. If you talk to them about their wives--there are not such women in the world. Their children are perfect models; their horses are better than their neighbours; and if they go out to buy goods, they can always get more for their money than anybody else, often, indeed, 25s worth for their sovereign. But get a little nearer to them, and you will find the work they do needs doing over again; as to their children, they are unruly and impudent; whilst the bargains they make are no bargains at all. I want now to look more particularly at men “short weight.” (Belshazzar instanced.) Pride? Can a proud man be short weight? Look at him, how big he is! Ah! you can measure some people’s pride, and you will get 37 inches to the yard. It takes 24 yards of silk to cover the pride of some women--and it will take 24 months to pay for it. Belshazzar was not the only proud person the world has known. I am afraid that pride exists in these days as well as in those. (Charles Leach.)

Divers weights and divers measures

Trade tricksters are not called highly respectable in Scripture, whatever they are in society. Apologists for tricks in trade say that the real fault is in the consumer, who will have a cheap article. On which showing, the whole charge of adulteration, and of the wickedness of selling worsted and silk for silk, shoddy for broadcloth, and sloe-juice for vine-wine, is held to amount to nothing. Cicero’s rule holds good to-day, that everything should be disclosed, in order that a purchaser may be ignorant of nothing that the seller knows. But few people have leisure for investigating the real quality and quantity of their purchases. It is only necessary, remarks Mr. Emerson, to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles of commerce from the fields where they grew to our houses, to become aware that we “eat and drink, and wear perjury and fraud in a hundred commodities.” Christian critics have been fain to admire in Mohammed the vigour and emphasis with which he inculcated a noble sincerity and fairness in dealing. “He who sells a defective thing, concealing its defect, will provoke the anger of God and the curses of the angels.” Every age has its recognised offenders of this sort, from Solomon’s days downwards. It was reserved, apparently, for our own age to merit in full the bad eminence of attaining such a pitch of refinement “in the art of the falsification of elementary substances,” that the very articles used to adulterate are themselves adulterated. (F. Jacox, B. A.)


Verse 10

Proverbs 20:10

Divers weights and divers measures; both of them are alike abomination to the Lord.

Caveat venditor

I. Dishonesty in trade is various in its forms. “Divers weights and divers measures . . . and a false balance.”

II. Dishonesty in trade is offensive to God.

1. Dishonesty is known to Him: His eye is on our business transactions, and no names or pretences, however plausible, can deceive Him.

2. Dishonesty is abhorred by Him. It is “an abomination unto the Lord.”

III. Dishonesty in trade is great folly and sin. This seems to be the idea of the latter clause of Proverbs 20:23 : “A false balance is not good.” The man who is dishonest for gain sacrifices--

1. The greater for the less.

2. The spiritual for the material.

3. The eternal and permanent for the temporal and uncertain.

4. The Divine for the worldly. Dishonesty is arrant folly; the man who gains by fraud is a great loser.

Conclusion:

1. Transact business by the rule laid down by our Lord (Matthew 7:12).

2. Transact business as in the sight of God. (W. Jones.)

Short weights and measures

All pound weights do not draw 16 ounces. Every yard stick is not quite 36 inches long. There are multitudes of things short weight, and not a few short measure. If all men were weighed and measured, some of us would need to be placed under short sticks, or require a big “make weight” to bring us up to the right standard. Besides men, there are things not quite full measure. Many things sold and used in Manchester, you may depend upon it, would be “short measure,” especially when compared with the standards the excise officers are in the habit of carrying about with them. I have met many men that would weigh 14 stone, but if you try to weigh their common sense it would not reach 14 ounces. There are hundreds of men whose tailors may be able to tell you how much cloth it would take to cover them; their shoemakers could tell you that their feet measured 9, 10, or 11 inches in length; but if you tried to measure all their good deeds--deeds of kindness done at home--deeds of sympathy to those who are poor--acts of love and mercy such as angels delight to see, and God smiles upon--you could do it with a 35-inch stick. And the misfortune is that these people are always the tall talkers. Talking does little work. Talking, minus doing, is minus weight. But there are some men that weigh too much. When I was a lad I used to see butter sold that was called “long weight.” Well, what was that? Eighteen ounces to the pound. I have met men more than 18 ounces to the pound. If they are workmen they can do twice as much as others in the same time. If you talk to them about their wives--there are not such women in the world. Their children are perfect models; their horses are better than their neighbours; and if they go out to buy goods, they can always get more for their money than anybody else, often, indeed, 25s worth for their sovereign. But get a little nearer to them, and you will find the work they do needs doing over again; as to their children, they are unruly and impudent; whilst the bargains they make are no bargains at all. I want now to look more particularly at men “short weight.” (Belshazzar instanced.) Pride? Can a proud man be short weight? Look at him, how big he is! Ah! you can measure some people’s pride, and you will get 37 inches to the yard. It takes 24 yards of silk to cover the pride of some women--and it will take 24 months to pay for it. Belshazzar was not the only proud person the world has known. I am afraid that pride exists in these days as well as in those. (Charles Leach.)

Divers weights and divers measures

Trade tricksters are not called highly respectable in Scripture, whatever they are in society. Apologists for tricks in trade say that the real fault is in the consumer, who will have a cheap article. On which showing, the whole charge of adulteration, and of the wickedness of selling worsted and silk for silk, shoddy for broadcloth, and sloe-juice for vine-wine, is held to amount to nothing. Cicero’s rule holds good to-day, that everything should be disclosed, in order that a purchaser may be ignorant of nothing that the seller knows. But few people have leisure for investigating the real quality and quantity of their purchases. It is only necessary, remarks Mr. Emerson, to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles of commerce from the fields where they grew to our houses, to become aware that we “eat and drink, and wear perjury and fraud in a hundred commodities.” Christian critics have been fain to admire in Mohammed the vigour and emphasis with which he inculcated a noble sincerity and fairness in dealing. “He who sells a defective thing, concealing its defect, will provoke the anger of God and the curses of the angels.” Every age has its recognised offenders of this sort, from Solomon’s days downwards. It was reserved, apparently, for our own age to merit in full the bad eminence of attaining such a pitch of refinement “in the art of the falsification of elementary substances,” that the very articles used to adulterate are themselves adulterated. (F. Jacox, B. A.)


Verse 11

Proverbs 20:11

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

A child’s accountability

The Bible recovers lost truths, as well as lost souls. The recovery of lost truth is one means of restoring lost souls. It is like a guide in a wilderness, as food in famine, as light in darkness: it is the restoration of that which is useful and essential. The truth of this passage is a lost truth. That human beings are early accountable, and early assume a decided character, is evident to reflection and observation. Apart from the teaching of Scripture, it is a lost truth that a “child is known by his doings.” “Child” means a son or daughter under parental control.

I. The actions of children become, in process of time, their own doings. Children move before they act, and they live as mere animals before they act spiritually and morally. In process of time the child acts. All its movements become conduct, the result of a determination to behave itself in a particular way.

1. An act which we are justified in describing as right or wrong, and which we can lawfully call the act of an accountable individual, must be performed by a being endowed with the following capacities: He must be able to conceive the act before its performance, mentally to see the thing done before doing it. He must be capable of appreciating motives for and against the action. He must know good and evil. He must have the power of saying, “I will,” and “I will not.” The “doings” of an individual are those acts which he rationally and intentionally performs.

2. A child, in course of a few years, exhibits the capabilities of which we speak.

3. Then it is, whether it comes early or late, that the actions of a child are his “doings.” He now performs the functions of a rational creature.

II. When the actions of children become their doings the children are recognised as accountable.

1. God recognises the child as the author of its own actions: He sees the doings of the child spring from a motive and principle within. He now holds the child guilty for its transgressions of His law. The child is now exposed to punishment; and to escape punishment, a dispensation of mercy to that individual child is necessary. God’s treatment of the child recognises the child’s doings.

2. The god of evil knows, by the doings of children, with whom and with what he has to do. He cannot, as God, search the heart, but he can observe the principles, tastes, and inclinations. He studies the child’s nature that he may know best how to injure it.

3. The angelic inhabitants of heaven recognise children in their ministrations. A child who is an heir of salvation is known to the angels--they minister to him, performing offices of kindness and services of charity, ordained by the God of love.

4. Children are recognised as accountable by their fellow human beings. Children are known to other children, and known to men.

III. From these two facts draw certain inferences.

1. The evils of sin are not escaped by the childhood of the sinner. God does not hold him guiltless because he is a child. But the Supreme Lawgiver does not account the child a man. Sin brings darkness into a child’s mind, and disquiet into a child’s heart, and gloom over a child’s spirit. There are wages paid now, and paid in the spiritual condition of the early sinner, and those wages are death.

2. As a child, he is exerting influence for good or for evil. The measure of the influence is not so considerable as in the case of the adult, but there is influence.

3. All the differences of human character are not traceable to education. Some of these differences may be thus explained, but not all, and not the greatest. The earliest doings of a child do not make manifest his education, but himself.

4. The character of the future man is often indicated by the character of the present child. If the earliest actions of children be observed, they will indicate the character which the child so constituted will form.

5. God does not treat a generation of children en masse, but individually. There is a personality about every child.

6. If a child be known by his doings, one test of character is universally employed by the Judge of all. The decisions of the final judgment are according to that a man hath done, whether good or bad. The child and the man are under one Lawgiver. (E. Martin.)

Fruit

We must be good before we can do good. What fruits will be found on that tree which God’s Holy Spirit has made a living tree?

1. There will be love to God, which will make you try to please Him, and to care for everything which belongs to your heavenly Father, His book, His house, His day.

2. There will be obedience to parents. Obedience to our parents on earth leads up naturally and pleasantly to obedience to our Father which is in heaven.

3. There will be truthfulness. Two great causes of untruthfulness are cowardice and the habit of exaggeration. Do not use overstrained expressions. Speak in a natural, straightforward, simple way.

4. There will be conscientiousness. The conscientious person will do his best, as in God’s sight. He will do his work thoroughly. He will be trustworthy. You may depend upon him. No one can be a Christian unless he is conscientious in his work, and conscientious in all his dealings with others.

5. There will be two things found in you, modesty and temperance. Would you think a pert girl or a saucy boy at all like Christ? By “temperance” I mean self-control, self-restraint. Greediness, the desire to get all you can for yourself, is the opposite of it. Temperance teaches us where to stop--shows us how to keep ourselves within bounds. All these good things are fruits of the Spirit. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

Children may be known

A young tree is known by its first fruits, a child by his childish things.

1. Children will discover themselves. One may soon see what their temper is, and which way their inclination leads them, according as their constitution is. Children have not learned the art of dissembling and concealing their bent as grown people have.

2. Parents should observe their children, that they may discover their disposition and genius, and both manage and dispose of them accordingly, drive the nail that will go, and draw out that which goes amiss. Wisdom is herein profitable to direct. (Matthew Henry.)

The child’s fortune told

We know persons by sight, or by name, or by description. They are best known by their actions.

I. What is meant by “doings” here?

1. The tempers a child indulges in. These tempers are fretful, or patient, or selfish, or generous.

2. The ill habits he forms. Idle, or industrious, or careless, or careful, or dilatory, or prompt.

3. The company he keeps. The choice of companions is a very important thing.

II. What may be known of a child by his doings? You are making your fortunes now every day. The tempers you are indulging, the habits you are forming, and the company you are keeping are all helping to make them. How careful you should be to find out what is wrong in your tempers and habits, and pray to God to help you to correct it at once. (R. Newton, D. D.)

A child’s doings

This big world of ours is really made up of a multitude of little ones. Every living creature has a world of its own. Every child has. So he can be known by what he does.

1. We are not to be judged merely by our sayings. Many people would like to be judged that way.

2. We are not to be judged only by our appearance.

3. We can only be known by our doings. But who is it knows us thus? In this way our fellow-men know us. In this way, above all, God knows us. If we are to be doing always what we ought to do, we shall need a helper.

Christian childhood soon discovers itself

How do we know a Christian boy or girl? Why in the same way that you know a candle has been lighted--by its shining. Do you suppose that people do not know whether you love your mother or not? You need not say to them, “I am very fond of my mother”; they will find it out soon enough for themselves--by the way you speak of your mother; by the way you speak to your mother; by your obedience to her directions; by your thoughtfulness when you think you can help her; by your willingness to be in her company; by your grief when she is grieved, or in trouble or pain. Yes, in a hundred different ways people can discover your affection for your mother. So with your love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. But though you need not announce to the world how good you are, the world will find out if you are good, will find out if you love Jesus Christ, when they see that you really--not in pretence, but really--like all that belongs to Him: His book, His house, His day. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)


Verse 12

Proverbs 20:12

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them.

Ears and no ears, eyes and no eyes

1. There are wise men in the world who will not admit that it was God who made the seeing eye, or the hearing ear, or anything else; who will rather assume that the ear and the eye made themselves by a gradual process of development. And you may not be able to withstand their arguments. The text may have an inexpressible value for you. If you can quote against the wise the words of a wiser, you are on firm ground. And the vast majority of the wisest and best men of every age concur with Solomon.

2. There is something in the text suitable for young children. When Solomon spoke of the hearing ear, he meant to remind us that some have ears which do not hear, and eyes that do not see. What we hear in any utterance depends on what we bring the power of hearing, just as what we see in any scene depends on what we bring the power of seeing. We are all apt to overlook that which is unknown to us. What we do not understand, or do not expect, excites no curiosity, touches no interest, rouses no attention; and hence it slips by unseen, unheard--just as the snapping of a slender twig might say nothing to us, and yet might tell a sportsman where the wild creature was which he was trying to shoot down. If God makes the hearing ear and the seeing eye, He expects us to make them too. He expects us to use and train these wonderful faculties. He rewards us in proportion as we meet, or disappoint, His expectation and our duty.

3. When the Bible speaks of deaf men who hear, and blind men who see, it almost always refers to men’s moral condition, to their attitude towards truth, righteousness, and God, as well as to the use they make of their mental faculties and capacities. It praises them for seeing and hearing as for an act of virtue and piety; it blames them for not seeing and hearing as for a sin. Knowledge without love is at once a poor and a perilous endowment. To be clever without being good, without even trying to be good, is only to deserve, and to secure, a severer condemnation. You have not even begun to be truly wise until you love and reverence God; until, from reverence and love for Him, you set yourselves to know and do that which is right, however hard it may be, and refuse to do that which is wrong, however easy and pleasant it may look. Men also prize goodness more than knowledge and cleverness, and value a kind heart more than even a full and well-trained mind. Be good, then, if you would be wise, if you would prove that you have an eye that sees and an ear to hear and obey. To be good no doubt is hard work. But that is the very reason why God asks you to trust in Him and to lean on Him. He is good, and He both can and will make you good, if you will let Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The hearing ear and the seeing eye

Why does Solomon say this?

I. That God should be studied in these organs.

1. In them Divine wisdom is manifest. Take--

2. In them Divine goodness is manifest.

3. In them Divine intelligence is symbolised.

II. That God should be served by these organs. The service for which God intends us to use them is to convey into our understandings His ideas, into our hearts His Spirit; translate the sensations they convey to us into Divine ideas; apply Divine ideas to the formation of our characters. God’s ideas should become at once the spring and rule of all our activities. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The hearing ear and seeing eye

For all the faculties of a man’s body, as well as of his soul, he is entirely indebted to his great Creator. The forgetfulness of the Creator of our bodily faculties is always accompanied by a forgetfulness of our responsibility for the use of them. How far have we turned to the best account those organs of the body which are more immediately connected with the mind, with the immortal spirit, with the state and well-being of the soul? The eye and ear are inlets to the soul. Be anxious to use your faculties while they are mercifully continued. As God made and opened the natural ear for the perception of sound, so does He make and open the spiritual ear for the reception of Divine truth into the heart. The mental ear, as well as the bodily, is liable to be disordered. In a state of spiritual deafness every child of Adam was born. None of us, when we came into the world, had an ear for spiritual things. Every prayer we offer up to God for grace to bless and prosper His preached Word to our souls is an acknowledgment that the hearing ear, the willing and longing and profiting ear, is His own gracious gift. Does He open thine ear? Listen faithfully. Does He open thine eye? Drink in fully the stream of light from heaven’s eternal fountain. (J. Slade, M. A.)

Hearing and sight

Every one hears and sees all day long, so perpetually that we never think about our hearing and our sight, unless we find them fail us. And yet, how wonderful are hearing and sight. How we hear, how we see, no man knows, nor perhaps ever will know. Science can only tell us as yet what happens, what God does; but of how God does it, it can tell us little or nothing; and of why God does it, nothing at all. It is wonderful that our brains should hear through our ears, and see through our eyes; but it is more wonderful still, that they should be able to recollect what they have heard and seen. Most people think much of signs and wonders, but the commonest things are as wonderful, more wonderful, than the uncommon. It is not faith only to see God in what is strange and rare. This is faith, to see God in what is most common and simple; not so much from those strange sights in which God seems to break His laws, as from those common ones in which He fulfils His laws. It is difficult to believe that, because our souls and minds are disorderly; and therefore order does not look to us what it is, the likeness and glory of God. The greatness of God is manifest in that He has ordained laws which must work of themselves, and with which He need never interfere. The universe is continually going right, because God has given it a law which cannot be broken. (Charles Kingsley, M. A.)

Living faculties

The Lord is willing to be judged by His work. The sculptor can make an ear, the Lord makes the hearing ear. But man has lost his power to listen. The mischief is that he thinks he is listening, and is deceiving himself. Listening is the act of the soul. The Lord maketh the seeing eye. The artist has made a thousand eyes, but no seeing eye. God did not give such faculties without a purpose. The very quality and capacity of the faculty must have some suggestion. These faculties were given us for education, not for prostitution. Take care how you use the ear and the eye. Has anybody been the better for your hearing or your seeing? Where faculties are given in man or beast or bird, there is a corresponding opportunity for their exercise provided. There are internal, spiritual eyes. The non-use of faculties is a religious crime. As certainly as we have bodily faculties that have meanings, missions, and issues, as there is a balance and relationship between the bodily and the external, so we have what is called a “religious nature.” We “know the meaning of reason, we know the meaning of faith, we know the meaning of passionate and wordless yearning. What are you going to do with your religious nature? You can starve it. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 14

Proverbs 20:14

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.

Fraud exposed and condemned

The man who would be really religious, must be influenced by religion in every part of his conduct, and on all occasions, during the week, as well as on the Sabbath; in his intercourse with man, as well as in his approaches to God. To conduct worldly business in a perfectly fair and upright manner, in such a manner as God prescribes, is a most important and difficult part of true religion.

I. Some general rules which God has given for the direction of those who wish to know and do their duty.

1. The rule that requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

2. The rule which forbids us to covet any part of our neighbour’s possessions. The command is express and comprehensive. We are not forbidden to desire the property of another, on fair and equitable terms. It forbids every desire to increase our property at our neighbour’s expense.

3. We are commanded to observe in all our transactions the rules of justice, truth, and sincerity.

4. We are directed in all our transactions to remember that the eye of God is upon us.

II. Apply these rules and show what they require, what they forbid, and when they are violated.

1. What do these rules require of us as subjects or members of civil society? There is an implied contract or agreement between a government and its subjects, by which the subjects engage to give a portion of their property in exchange for the blessings of protection, social order, and security.

2. The application of these rules to the common pecuniary transactions of life. They forbid every wish, and much more every attempt, to defraud or deceive our neighbour. And this on the part of both buyer and seller. We must put ourselves in the place of our neighbour, and do as we would be done by. We are always to act as we would do if our fellow-creatures could see our hearts.

3. Apply these rules to our past conduct, that we may ascertain how far we have observed, and in what instances we have disregarded them. God takes special cognisance of the wrongs which are done by artifice, fraud, and deceit, and which human laws cannot prevent or discover. Any who have violated these rules in their pecuniary transactions are required to repent, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. There is no repentance, and of course no forgiveness, without restitution. How can a man repent of iniquity who still retains the wages of iniquity? And these rules must regulate our future transactions if we mean to be the real subjects of Christ. They are the laws of His kingdom, which you have covenanted to obey. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Bargain-driving

The inconsiderate thirst for cheapness is one of the social curses of our age. Here is a concise description of a bargain-driver. Say anything to depreciate the article, and get it at a lower price than is asked; then boast of your success. This may be sharp, but if it is not always sin, it is constantly on the very margin of vice. In buying cheap we may avail ourselves only of lawful advantages, and may not compass unrighteous or unfair gains. To get what a man wants, and to give as little as possible for it, need not be sinful. Lying is a sin in trade just as much as in common conversation. The inconsiderate craving for cheapness has a bad effect on the mind. It makes it grasping and selfish, greedy of its own gain, but careless of others’ well-doing. It produces, if long indulged in, a spirit of low and unworthy cunning. Observe how the influence of this thirst for cheapness spreads. I have no words to express my contempt and abhorrence for the meanness which goes into a shop with the deliberate resolve to get the articles wanted for less than the price asked. Such questions are the very essence of religion. A religion that does not touch our every-day life, our money matters, our actions in and on society, is a religion that is on the surface merely. It is the undue severance of things secular from things sacred which makes so much of men’s religion unreal, and so much of their business unrighteous, i.e., not carried out with a full sense of what is right from man to man. (J. E. Clarke, M. A.)

Chicanery

Mr. Bridges says “that Augustine mentions a somewhat ludicrous, but significant story. A mountebank published in the full theatre that in the next entertainment he would show to every man present what was in his heart. An immense concourse attended, and the man redeemed his pledge to the vast assembly by a single sentence: ‘Vili vultis emere, et caro vendere’ (’You all wish to buy cheap, and to sell dear’), a sentence generally applauded; every one, even the most trifling (as Augustine observes) finding the confirming witness in his own conscience.” There is no harm in buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. In fact, this is both wise and right in the vendor. Some regard the word “buyer” here in the sense of possessor, and then the idea of the passage is changed, and it is this--that a man attaches greater value to a thing after he has lost it than before. This is a law of human nature. The lost piece of silver, the lost sheep, the lost son. But it is more like Solomon to regard the text as meaning what it says--the “buyer.” We offer two remarks upon the passage.

I. That it reveals a common commercial practice. The “buyer” depreciates the commodity in the process of purchase. He does this in order to get it at a price below its worth. And when he succeeds, and it comes legally into his possession, the value of the article is not only properly estimated, but greatly exaggerated. “He boasteth”--

1. Because his vanity has been gratified. He feels that he has done a clever thing. “He boasteth”--

2. Because his greed has been gratified.

II. That it reveals an immoral commercial practice.

1. There is falsehood.

2. There is dishonesty. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Honest buying

It was once proposed to the Duke of Wellington to purchase a farm in the neighbourhood of Strathfieldsaye, which lay near to his estate, and was therefore valuable. The Duke assented. When the purchase was completed, his steward congratulated him upon having made such a bargain, as the seller was in difficulties, and forced to part with it. “What do you mean by a bargain?” said the Duke. The other replied, “It was valued at £1,100, and we have got it for £800.” “In that ease,” said the Duke, “you will please to carry the extra £300 to the late owner, and never talk to me of cheap land again.” (Home Words.)


Verse 14

Proverbs 20:14

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.

Fraud exposed and condemned

The man who would be really religious, must be influenced by religion in every part of his conduct, and on all occasions, during the week, as well as on the Sabbath; in his intercourse with man, as well as in his approaches to God. To conduct worldly business in a perfectly fair and upright manner, in such a manner as God prescribes, is a most important and difficult part of true religion.

I. Some general rules which God has given for the direction of those who wish to know and do their duty.

1. The rule that requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

2. The rule which forbids us to covet any part of our neighbour’s possessions. The command is express and comprehensive. We are not forbidden to desire the property of another, on fair and equitable terms. It forbids every desire to increase our property at our neighbour’s expense.

3. We are commanded to observe in all our transactions the rules of justice, truth, and sincerity.

4. We are directed in all our transactions to remember that the eye of God is upon us.

II. Apply these rules and show what they require, what they forbid, and when they are violated.

1. What do these rules require of us as subjects or members of civil society? There is an implied contract or agreement between a government and its subjects, by which the subjects engage to give a portion of their property in exchange for the blessings of protection, social order, and security.

2. The application of these rules to the common pecuniary transactions of life. They forbid every wish, and much more every attempt, to defraud or deceive our neighbour. And this on the part of both buyer and seller. We must put ourselves in the place of our neighbour, and do as we would be done by. We are always to act as we would do if our fellow-creatures could see our hearts.

3. Apply these rules to our past conduct, that we may ascertain how far we have observed, and in what instances we have disregarded them. God takes special cognisance of the wrongs which are done by artifice, fraud, and deceit, and which human laws cannot prevent or discover. Any who have violated these rules in their pecuniary transactions are required to repent, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. There is no repentance, and of course no forgiveness, without restitution. How can a man repent of iniquity who still retains the wages of iniquity? And these rules must regulate our future transactions if we mean to be the real subjects of Christ. They are the laws of His kingdom, which you have covenanted to obey. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Bargain-driving

The inconsiderate thirst for cheapness is one of the social curses of our age. Here is a concise description of a bargain-driver. Say anything to depreciate the article, and get it at a lower price than is asked; then boast of your success. This may be sharp, but if it is not always sin, it is constantly on the very margin of vice. In buying cheap we may avail ourselves only of lawful advantages, and may not compass unrighteous or unfair gains. To get what a man wants, and to give as little as possible for it, need not be sinful. Lying is a sin in trade just as much as in common conversation. The inconsiderate craving for cheapness has a bad effect on the mind. It makes it grasping and selfish, greedy of its own gain, but careless of others’ well-doing. It produces, if long indulged in, a spirit of low and unworthy cunning. Observe how the influence of this thirst for cheapness spreads. I have no words to express my contempt and abhorrence for the meanness which goes into a shop with the deliberate resolve to get the articles wanted for less than the price asked. Such questions are the very essence of religion. A religion that does not touch our every-day life, our money matters, our actions in and on society, is a religion that is on the surface merely. It is the undue severance of things secular from things sacred which makes so much of men’s religion unreal, and so much of their business unrighteous, i.e., not carried out with a full sense of what is right from man to man. (J. E. Clarke, M. A.)

Chicanery

Mr. Bridges says “that Augustine mentions a somewhat ludicrous, but significant story. A mountebank published in the full theatre that in the next entertainment he would show to every man present what was in his heart. An immense concourse attended, and the man redeemed his pledge to the vast assembly by a single sentence: ‘Vili vultis emere, et caro vendere’ (’You all wish to buy cheap, and to sell dear’), a sentence generally applauded; every one, even the most trifling (as Augustine observes) finding the confirming witness in his own conscience.” There is no harm in buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. In fact, this is both wise and right in the vendor. Some regard the word “buyer” here in the sense of possessor, and then the idea of the passage is changed, and it is this--that a man attaches greater value to a thing after he has lost it than before. This is a law of human nature. The lost piece of silver, the lost sheep, the lost son. But it is more like Solomon to regard the text as meaning what it says--the “buyer.” We offer two remarks upon the passage.

I. That it reveals a common commercial practice. The “buyer” depreciates the commodity in the process of purchase. He does this in order to get it at a price below its worth. And when he succeeds, and it comes legally into his possession, the value of the article is not only properly estimated, but greatly exaggerated. “He boasteth”--

1. Because his vanity has been gratified. He feels that he has done a clever thing. “He boasteth”--

2. Because his greed has been gratified.

II. That it reveals an immoral commercial practice.

1. There is falsehood.

2. There is dishonesty. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Honest buying

It was once proposed to the Duke of Wellington to purchase a farm in the neighbourhood of Strathfieldsaye, which lay near to his estate, and was therefore valuable. The Duke assented. When the purchase was completed, his steward congratulated him upon having made such a bargain, as the seller was in difficulties, and forced to part with it. “What do you mean by a bargain?” said the Duke. The other replied, “It was valued at £1,100, and we have got it for £800.” “In that ease,” said the Duke, “you will please to carry the extra £300 to the late owner, and never talk to me of cheap land again.” (Home Words.)


Verse 15

Proverbs 20:15

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies.

On the moral end of business

Let me define my meaning in the use of this phrase--“the moral end of business.” It is not the end for which property should be sought. It is not the moral purpose to be answered by the acquisition, but by the process of acquisition. And again, it is not the end of industry in general--that is a more comprehensive subject--but it is the end of business in particular, of barter, of commerce. “The end of business!” some one may say; “why, the end of business is to obtain property; the end of the process of acquisition is acquisition.” I hold that the ultimate end of all business is a moral end. I believe that business--I mean not labour, but barter, traffic--would never have existed if there had been no end but sustenance. The animal races obtain subsistence upon an easier and simpler plan; but for man there is a higher end, and that is moral. The broad grounds of this position I find in the obvious designs of Providence, and in the evident adaptation to this moral end of business itself.

1. There is, then, a design for which all things were made and ordained, going beyond the things themselves. To say that things were made, or that the arrangements and relations of things were ordained, for their own sake, is a proposition without meaning. The world, its structure, productions, laws, and events, have no good nor evil in them--none, but as they produce these results in the experience of living creatures. The end, then, of the inanimate creation is the welfare of the living, and, therefore, especially of the intelligent creation. But the welfare of human beings lies essentially in their moral culture. We are not appointed to pass through this life barely that we may live. We are not impelled, both by disposition and necessity, to buy and sell, barely that we may do it; nor to get gain, barely that we may get it. There is an end in business beyond supply. There is an object in the acquisition of wealth beyond success. There is a final cause of human traffic, and that is virtue. With this view of the moral end of business falls in the constant doctrine of all elevated philosophy and true religion. Life, say the expounders of every creed, is a probation. Now, if anything deserves to be considered as a part of that probation, it is business. Life, say the wise, is a school. But the end of a lesson is that something be learned; and the end of business is, that truth, rectitude, virtue, be learned. This is the ultimate design proposed by Heaven, and it is a design which every wise man, engaged in that calling, will propose to himself. It is no extravagance, therefore, but the simple assertion of a truth, to say to a man so engaged, and to say emphatically, “You have an end to gain beyond success, and that is the moral rectitude of your own mind.”

2. That business is so exquisitely adapted to accomplish that purpose, is another argument with me to prove that such, in the intention of its Ordainer, was its design. An honest man, a man who sincerely desires to attain to a lofty and unbending uprightness, could scarcely seek a discipline more perfectly fitted to that end than the discipline of trade. For what is trade? It is the constant adjustment of the claims of different parties, a man’s self being one of the parties. This competition of rights and interests might not invade the solitary study, or the separate tasks of the workshop, or the labours of the silent field, once a day; but it presses upon the merchant and trader continually. Do you say that it presses too hard? Then, I reply, must the sense of rectitude be made the stronger to meet the trial. Every plea of this nature is an argument for strenuous moral effort. A man must do more than to attain to punctilious honesty in his actions; he must train his whole soul, his judgment, his sentiments and affections, to uprightness, candour, and good-will. I have thus attempted to show that business has an ultimate, moral end--one going beyond the accumulation of property.

3. This may also be shown to be true, not only on the scale of our private affairs, but on the great theatre of history. Commerce has always been an instrument in the hands of Providence for accomplishing nobler ends than promoting the wealth of nations. It has been the grand civiliser of nations. With its earliest birth on the Mediterranean shore, freedom was born. Phoenicia, the merchants of whose cities, Tyre and Sidon, were accounted princes; the Hebrew commonwealth, which carried on a trade through those parts; the Grecian, Carthaginian, and Roman States, were not only the freest, but they were the only free states of antiquity. In the middle ages commerce broke down in Europe, the feudal system, raising up, in the Hanse Towns, throughout Germany, Sweden, and Norway, a body of men who were able to cope with barons and kings, and to wrest from them their free charters and rightful privileges. In England its influence is proverbial; the sheet-anchor, it has long been considered, of her unequalled prosperity and intelligence. Its moral influences are the only ones of which we stand in any doubt, and these, it need not be said, are of unequalled importance. The philanthropist, the Christian, are all bound to watch these influences with the closest attention, and to do all in their power to guard and elevate them. It is upon this point that I wish especially to insist; but there are one or two topics that may previously claim some attention.

The lips of knowledge are a precious Jewel.

The use of the tongue

It is very difficult to control the noble faculty of speech, but it may be controlled. You may bridle it.

I. The power of speech is a great endowment. One of the essential distinctions between us and the mere animal. Expression is thus given to our power of thinking, which is another great endowment. The tongue is the heart’s interpreter. Used as it may and ought to be, its influence is luminous as the light and fragrant as the rose. But what mischief it may work!

II. We have great responsibility in the matter of our speaking. All our endowments involve an accountability proportionate to their magnitude and importance, and speech is no exception. The impression seems common that our words are of little importance, and that while actions must be accounted for, speaking is but a voice, and will not be recorded, or appear again to confront us. Every serious person must be sensible how heavily the burden of sins of speech presses on him.

III. God has afforded fulness of instruction in regard to our bearing of this responsibility. The instruction is, for the most part, general in its nature.

1. Truth. Departure from truth is specially condemned. Untruth includes exaggerated statements.

2. Sincerity. Heart and lips must never be at variance.

3. Purity. This excludes levity in speaking of holy things.

4. Love. This will induce to active good.

IV. Speech is capable of control. How is it to be bridled?

1. By right thinking.

2. By watchfulness.

3. By correct habits.

4. By prayer.

“He that seemeth to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, that man’s religion is vain.” (H. Wilkes, D. D.)


Verse 16

Verse 18

Proverbs 20:18

Every purpose is established by counsel.

Counsel

“Of all apostolic habits the most habitual,” writes arehbishop Benson, “was the usage of counsel. The upper chamber, the house, the home of Mary, Jerusalem, Antioch, the school of Ephesus, the Hired House at Rome, were so many conciliabula and scenes of high debate. How full is the Acts of the Apostles of mentions of ‘disputation,’ ‘conference,’ ‘reasoning,’ and of such expressions as these: ‘They came together to consider the matter,’ ‘It pleased the apostles and elders and the whole Church,’ ‘Being assembled together with one accord,’ and the like. How strong are the injunctions ‘to assemble themselves,’ ‘to come together in the assembly,’ ‘to be gathered together with one spirit’!”

1. It is a familiar experience that we can tune ourselves for any work of our own by placing ourselves in touch with some kindred work by a master hand. By this simple method we can in some measure “kindle when we will the fire which in the heart resides.” Our spirits drink in refreshment from those living founts of inspiration. What others have consummately done lends us at least the impulse to go and do likewise.

2. By withdrawing ourselves, if only for a brief space, from the absorbing interests, the keen controversies, of the present into the serener regions of the past, where principles and men and methods can be more impartially studied, by going “back to the Bible” in the modest but unflinching spirit, and with the enriched equipment of scientific research--our minds are tranquillised and balanced as well as quickened and enlightened for dealing with the urgent needs, the burning questions, the conflicting points of view and policies of the hour. So by God’s help may it be with us as we rapidly survey “the type and model” of Christian councils of every kind and degree, and thus look for guiding principles, practical indications, and spiritual tone to “the rock whence we are hewn.” (Bp. Jayne, D. D.)


Verse 19

Proverbs 20:19

Meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.

On keeping away people we don’t want

Not all insects are welcome visitors to plants; there are unbidden guests who do harm. To their visits there are often obstacles. Stiff hairs, impassably slippery or viscid stems, moats in which the intruders drown, and other structural peculiarities, whose origin may have had no reference to insects, often justify themselves by saving the plant. Even more interesting, however, is the preservation of some acacias and other shrubs by a bodyguard of ants, which, innocent themselves, ward off the attacks of the deadly leaf-cutters. In some cases the bodyguard has become almost hereditarily accustomed to the plants, and the plants to them, for they are found in constant companionship, and the plants exhibit structures which look almost as if they had been made as shelters for the ants. On some of our European trees similar little homes or domatia constantly occur, and shelter small insects, which do no harm to the trees, but cleanse them from injurious fungi. (J. Arthur Thomson, M. A.)


Verse 21

Proverbs 20:21

An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.

Patience and permanence

Ours is an age of haste. Short cuts to learning, professional life without due preparation, fortunes before labour; all this foretells disaster and collapse. In behalf of an energy that is persistent, a labour that is patient, enterprises that count the cost I wish to speak. The truth of the text appears--

I. In the material world. Tremendous forces have operated through ages to bring the earth into its present condition. Geological, chemical, astronomical science tell of changes slow, silent, but persistent, and therefore permanent.

II. In the intellectual world. The human mind has a physical basis. As grew the material, so grows the mental world. A process here, a progress there. Ideas endure hardness in their battle for recognition. Doctrines are developed according to this law of progress. Scripture unfolds like herbage in the field. Intellectual power is secured by labour and persistent effort. Nature reveals her secrets, history discloses the past, revelation makes known her truth, only to the studious and devout.

III. In the spiritual world. Scripture has styled the Almighty “the God of all patience.” His works bear evidence of finish and completeness. Why does He deliberate, tarry, and hasten not? Let this God of patience interpret His own plans. With Him millenniums are as days. Sudden movements in grace, as in nature, are of the destructive kind. Gentle dews, not crashing storms, make good pasture. A lamb, not the lion, is final conqueror, and the servant who sows and waits, prays and persists, believes and does not make haste, squall have a sure reward. (Frank Rector, M. A.)


Verse 23

Proverbs 20:23

And a false balance is not good.

False balance applied to providences

We may apply a false balance to the providences which make up our life. What skill some people have in dealing only in dark things, black aspects, wintry phases, deprivations, bereavements, losses! They are eloquent when they tell you what they have parted with. Who can be equally eloquent in numbering mercies? Who ever gets beyond the outside of things, the mere rim, the palpable environment? Who gets into the soul, and who says, “I have reason, how can I be poor? I have health, how can I fail? I have home, how can I be desolate?” In balancing life take in all these reasons and thoughts and considerations, and so doing you will see that all the while God has been making you rich, or giving you the possibilitity and opportunity of acquiring and enjoying the true wealth. Who is there that keeps a right balance when he has to weigh the present and the future? The unsteady hand can never get an equipoise; the palsied fingers cannot hold the scales. The present is here, the future is yonder; and when did “here” fail to carry the war against “yonder”? We have even formed little foolish proverbs about this; we have gone so far as to tell the lie that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Whoever says that is guilty of a palpable sophism. He seems to be speaking truth, he forgets that everything depends on the bird that is in the bush, and all the possibilities and contingencies and promises which relate to the possibility and certainty of its capture if the right way be pursued. We are the victims of the present. It would seem impossible for some men to do justice to spirituality. Spiritual teaching goes for nothing. If you deal in clothing for the head you will get your money; there is a county court to support you--but if you give a man ideas, if you pray him into heaven, if you lift up his soul into a new selfhood, the county court would smile at you if you made application for assistance in any direction that you might think honest and equitable. And the very best of men play at that game. They cannot help it. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 23

Proverbs 20:23

And a false balance is not good.

False balance applied to providences

We may apply a false balance to the providences which make up our life. What skill some people have in dealing only in dark things, black aspects, wintry phases, deprivations, bereavements, losses! They are eloquent when they tell you what they have parted with. Who can be equally eloquent in numbering mercies? Who ever gets beyond the outside of things, the mere rim, the palpable environment? Who gets into the soul, and who says, “I have reason, how can I be poor? I have health, how can I fail? I have home, how can I be desolate?” In balancing life take in all these reasons and thoughts and considerations, and so doing you will see that all the while God has been making you rich, or giving you the possibilitity and opportunity of acquiring and enjoying the true wealth. Who is there that keeps a right balance when he has to weigh the present and the future? The unsteady hand can never get an equipoise; the palsied fingers cannot hold the scales. The present is here, the future is yonder; and when did “here” fail to carry the war against “yonder”? We have even formed little foolish proverbs about this; we have gone so far as to tell the lie that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Whoever says that is guilty of a palpable sophism. He seems to be speaking truth, he forgets that everything depends on the bird that is in the bush, and all the possibilities and contingencies and promises which relate to the possibility and certainty of its capture if the right way be pursued. We are the victims of the present. It would seem impossible for some men to do justice to spirituality. Spiritual teaching goes for nothing. If you deal in clothing for the head you will get your money; there is a county court to support you--but if you give a man ideas, if you pray him into heaven, if you lift up his soul into a new selfhood, the county court would smile at you if you made application for assistance in any direction that you might think honest and equitable. And the very best of men play at that game. They cannot help it. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 24

Proverbs 20:24

Man’s goings are of the Lord: how can a man then understand his own way?

Man’s goings

I. The text in its negative bearings.

1. Appeal to Scripture (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23).

2. Appeal to history. Hazael (2 Kings 8:11).

3. Appeal to your own experience.

Is it not true that when you trust to your own strength you are apt to trifle with temptation?

II. The text in its positive bearings. “Man’s goings are of the Lord.” His goings in the path of duty are. What is true of duty is true also of the conduct of life. From this gather encouragement, and nourish humility. Check all presumptuous schemes as to the future. (A. Nicholson, B. A.)


Verse 25

Proverbs 20:25

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy.

Selfishness in religion

There were under the Levitical dispensation certain things prescribed by the law as consecrated to God; such as tithes, first-fruits, firstlings of the herds and the flock. There were also things that were voluntarily consecrated as free-will offerings to Jehovah. It is to these, perhaps, that Solomon here specially refers. The expression, “to devour that which is holy,” characterises the conduct of those who appropriate that to their own use which had been either by themselves or others consecrated to the service of God. The subject leads us to consider selfishness in religion. Selfishness everywhere is bad, but when selfishness intrudes into the temple of religion, it is peculiarly hideous. It is then the serpent amongst seraphs.

I. The appropriating of the consecrated to personal use. The text speaks of the man who “devoureth that which is holy.” This was the sin of Achan: he robbed the treasury of the Lord (Joshua 6:19; Joshua 7:1). “Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8-9). This is done now in England.

1. In the personal appropriations of ecclesiastical endowments.

2. In the assumption of sacred offices for personal ends.

3. In the adoption of the Christian profession from motives of personal interest.

II. The endeavouring to avoid the fulfilment of religious vows. “And after vows to make inquiry.” There are three ideas that must not be attached to this expression.

1. The idea that it is wrong to make religious vows is not here.

2. The idea that it is wrong to break improper vows is not here.

3. The idea that it is wrong to think upon the vow after it is made is not here. (D. Thomas, D. D.)


Verse 26

Proverbs 20:26

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them

Persecution and righteous penalty

A passage of this kind may easily be perverted by being used for the purpose of supporting a doctrine of persecution.
To bring the wheel over a man seems to be a figurative expression for the very direst cruelty. If a man is wicked, crush him with the wheel, tear him limb from limb, decapitate him, in some way show that there is a power that can terminate not only his enjoyment and his liberty, but his life. That, however is not the meaning of the text. Always distinguish between persecution and righteous penalty, between mere oppression and the assertion of that righteousness which is essential to the consolidation of society. When the stacks of corn were spread upon the threshing-floor, the grain was separated from the husk by a sort of sledge or cart which was driven over them. The process was for the purpose of separating the chaff from the
wheat; the process therefore was purely beneficent: so with the wise king; he winnows out evil persons, he signalises them, he gives them all the definiteness of a separate position, and by bringing them into startling contrast with persons of sound and honest heart he seeks to put an end to their mischievous power. Indiscrimination is the ruin of goodness. Men are separated by different ways, not by imprisonment, not by merely personal penalty, not by stigma and brand of an offensive character; they are separated by contrariety of taste, aspiration, feeling, sympathy; in proportion as the good are earnest do they classify themselves, bringing themselves in sacred association with one another, and by sensitiveness of moral touch they feel the evil and avoid it; they know the evil person at a distance and are careful to put themselves out of his way and reach. What is represented as being done by the wise king is done by the cultivation of high principle and Christian honour. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 27 The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.

The nature and function of conscience

The spirit of man is the breath of the Creator. The breath kindled intelligence in the brain, and infused vitality into the heart. It did more than that. It made man a moral being, capable of virtue, and responsible for his actions. The vitalizing breath of the Lord kindled a light in man--here called “the candle of the Lord.” By that candle man sees his own inner nature, witnesses the process of his own mind, and observes the motions of his affections and will. Conscience has a place of pre-eminent importance in our nature.

1. Scientific men give one definition of conscience, while popular usage sanctions another materially different. In every-day usage the word is used to indicate the whole moral nature of man. When a man resists temptation he says, “My conscience will not let me do it.” Conscience includes three things: the perception of right or wrong; the judgment of a particular action as being right or wrong; the feeling of pleasure or remorse which follows right or wrong action. The Bible usage of the word is the same as our ordinary usage in every-day speech. In Scripture usage, conscience includes the perception, the judgment, and the feeling. Conscience is not an Old Testament term. And, singularly enough, the word was never used in the teaching of the Lord Jesus.

2. Paul’s most frequent word for the function of conscience is the figurative word “witness.” Conscience is a witness testifying in the soul. A witness is one who testifies, one who tells clearly what he knows of a matter. To what facts or truths does conscience bear testimony. It testifies to the existence of a fundamental distinction between right and wrong. It testifies that right ought to be done, and that wrong ought not to be done. It convicts a man when wrong has been done. Its witness becomes a check on man’s doings. (Jesse T. Whitley.)

The spiritual part of man

The text is an account of the soul, or spiritual part in man. The spirit of man is the lamp of Jehovah, i.e., its operations and manner of performing them are similar to those of a lamp, and it is supported in them by Jehovah spiritually, as a lamp is in nature physically. In a lamp are four things.

1. A vessel.

2. A substance capable of being illuminated.

3. Necessity for kindling it.

4. Constant recruits of oil to supply it and keep it burning. These particulars are as spiritually true in the soul of man.

I. The soul has a vessel in which it is enclosed and contained. The body is the vessel of this lamp of Jehovah.

II. The soul, though capable of receiving illumination from God, is in itself absolutely dark. When, by that grand and original sin at the fall, the light that was in us became darkness, how great was that darkness! By the fall this most glorious excellency and perfection of our nature, spiritual discernment by faith, was lost, and we became like the beasts.

III. Christ was sent to kindle a light in the soul. “A light to lighten the Gentiles.” “The true light that lighteth (the lamp of) every one coming into the world.” When the light of Jehovah is lighted in the soul of man, and not overwhelmed by sensuality, it conquers and triumphs over the natural darkness that is in us. When the Divine light is the agent in the soul, the moment it meets with any darkness to impede and obstruct its operations it at once recoils, and by that means admonishes us of it; after which it never rests till it has either expelled it or conformed it to itself.

IV. Spiritual oil is necessary to keep the light alive in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the Divine oil that must feed and nourish our lamps. Inferences for our direction in faith and practice:

1. If the body is a vessel to contain the heavenly lamp, how few are seeking to “possess this vessel in sanctification and honour.”

2. If the soul be dark by nature, what becomes of that idol of the deists, the “light of nature”?

3. If Christ be the only person that can lighten our darkness, to Him let every man go.

4. Let us not make the fatal mistake of setting out to meet the Bridegroom, without taking oil in our vessels, with our lamps. (Bp. Horne.)

The nerve of religious sensation

Able to shine; constructed to shine; but not alight until it has been lighted--the candle of the Lord. Man’s spirit is part of us, and able to produce flame when it has been touched with flame. It is a special capacity we have for feeling, appreciating, and responding to Divine things. Sound affects the ear; light the eye; the spirit is the nerve of religious sensation. Man is a bundle of adaptations. The religious sense is the faculty which all men have, in varying degree, of appreciating religious and Divine things. We could not be holy without the instinct, but the instinct does not insure our being holy. There is in this no difference between the religious instinct and other of our instincts. The religious sense forms part of each man’s original outfit. It gives the teacher and preacher something with which to start. The facility with which children can be approached in religious matters shows that religion is a matter of instinct before it is a matter of education. This inborn religious sense is an easy argument for the existence of God. The possession of this religious instinct puts us upon the track of a very simple and practical duty. Whether we become holy or not will depend mostly upon how we treat that instinct, and upon whether we repress and smother it, or give it free chance of unfolding. It rests with us to take some sturdy measures to bring out this religious consciousness into greater force and fuller glow. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

The spirit of man

When God had completed the house of the soul, He furnished it most liberally with glorious lights. The intellect is one of the bright lights placed in the soul’s house to cheer and guide men in this life. The light of the human mind is invaluable. Man is scarcely a man without its illuminating flame. Then there is the guiding light of conscience. And there is the spiritual light which characterises all mankind, that leads humanity everywhere to worship God.

I. Man is a great being. It is said alone of man, “In the image of God created He him.” This singles out man as the greatest being on earth. Every earnest, intelligent, and devout man is in some degree conscious of an inherent greatness. Conscious personality is a unique power. In the moral realm every man is a sovereign who conceives plans and executes purposes of high significance and far-reaching consequences. Man’s conscious personality survives the shock of death. Man is the son of God. The sons of God are partakers of the Divine nature. This raises them to a plane that is at an infinite distance from the creatures next to them in the scale of existence. Really true greatness consists in likeness to God. A good man is one of the greatest works of God.

II. Man is Divinely illuminated.

1. The intellectual light of man is from God.

2. The light of conscience is from God. It is a pure, clear flame, that reveals to us the character of our thoughts and purposes before they become actions.

3. The spiritual light in man is from God. Savage and civilised, the world over, worship some god. The lamp that lights all men who come into the world, and leads them to worship, is doubtless of God’s kindling. In worship, the soul pays its filial homage to God.

III. Man has been illuminated for a Divine purpose. God created all things for His own glory. Men of great intellectual powers are placed by God in the midst of the world’s moral darkness, that by their superior light they might scatter the mental night of their fellows. Great intellects possess a tremendous power for good or evil. “Man is like the candle lighted by the Spirit of God, radiating the glory of God’s nature, and itself glorified by the Divine fire. But some men are unlighted candles.” (D. Rhys Jenkins.)

The light of conscience

Victor Hugo says: “In every human heart there is a light kindled and, close by, a strong wind which seeks to extinguish it; this light is conscience, this wind is superstition. Conscience is the child of God; superstition, the child of the devil. Conscience loves and rejoices in the light; superstition hates the light of mind and spirit, because its deeds are evil.”


Verse 29

Proverbs 20:29

The glory of young men is their strength.

The glory of young men

Power, force, might, strength, are divers names for a thing which always has been, and always will be, admirable in human esteem. In all its forms it is a glorious thing. The man of indomitable will is always an object of reverence to his fellows. In every region of the humanities the man who can do the most, and with the least apparent expenditure of power, acquires a kind of moral chieftainship among his compeers in the same sphere. The text says that strength is the peculiar glory of young men. Other things will come by and by, but this is the thing that comes first. The glory of young men is not their wisdom. Young men are not generally very wise. They make a good many mistakes. The time for wisdom will come, whether the wisdom will come or not. The strength that is to be their glory is physical, bodily strength. A vast multitude of soul-ills come of a much lower kind of ill. Some men are born weak. And it is a very terrible thing, though a very merciful thing for the world. It is God’s law for preventing the perpetuation of moral evil. It is a provision that depraved lives of humanity shall die out if they do not, by conforming to the Divine laws, repair and improve themselves. There are some young men who are shorn of their glory, and have nobody to blame but themselves. What caricatures of humanity one sometimes passes in the street, in the form of young men! And there are old young men, enervated by folly and wickedness, doomed to drag out a weary existence for a few years, with no proper force for any of life’s duties and relations, and self-doomed. Keep, I beseech you, by all the means in your power, a strong, healthy body--vigorous, athletic, nervous, firm. But the text means more than this. Body is not yet manhood. There is moral power. One wants a deal of moral force, especially at life’s beginning, to live a true, and worthy, and noble life. Force is of two sorts: there is quiet force-inertia, and there is active force-motion. Both of these sorts of force go to make manhood. You must try to get moral solidity, gravity, weight, firmness, immovability, steadfastness. The elements of this force are conviction and decision. You must try to get active force, enthusiasm, energy, enterprise. Without this, nothing is done in any department of life. Seek the ability to go out of yourselves, to do and to dare for God. (G. W. Conder.)

The glory of young men

Men look with admiration and with awe upon great power, wherever it is seen. The visitor to Niagara cannot but be moved by the thought of the immeasurable power of that river as it dashes over the declivity. The man of power has always been the object of the veneration of his less talented fellow-men. He has but to move and straightway his movements are chronicled all over the civilised world. There is no sight in all the earth so impressive as is that of young manhood in its youthful power and vigour of faculty, eager for the struggle of life.

I. The strength of young manhood should be controlled. Power is productive of good only when its energies are guided in right channels and directed to right uses by intelligence and wisdom. When power becomes master and goes out from beneath the hand of wise control it is always destructive. The locomotive, Titan giant serving men meekly so long as they hold its movements obedient to their will, goes crashing into the train ahead, because the engineer has lost control of his iron steed; and the shrieks of the wounded and the moans of the dying tell us of the awful death-dealing ability of great power which has become a law to itself. The waters behind the dam at South Fork were harmless, except potentially, so long as they were controlled. They served only to further the peaceful industries of the mountain valley. But, breaking the bonds and acknowledging no ruler but anarchy, they spread desolation in their wake. Powerful though machinery and the forces of nature are, they are pigmies in comparison with a young man. He has done more than they all. What the world is to-day it has been made by young men. “Through all time, the greatest victories have been achieved, the wisest and most beneficent reforms instituted, the greatest Christian enterprises undertaken, and the most decided impetus given to the advance of the world by men who have “begun to be about thirty years of age.” Bichat, French physician and physiologist, had revolutionised the practice of medicine and died before he was thirty-one. John Wesley founded the Methodist Church before he was thirty-six. Luther was thirty-three when he nailed his theses to the door of Wittenberg Church. Wilbrrforce had compelled England to free all her slaves by the time he was thirty-two. At the same age Watt had invented the steam-engine. But on the other hand the destructive influence of the strength of young manhood, when that strength is not wisely controlled, is seen when we glance at the rosters of our jails and penal institutions and discover the fact that the inmates of those institutions are for the most part young men. History also reminds us that Alexander the Great had made his name odious, conqueror of the world though he was, by the time he was thirty-three, and Napoleon had come to ignominy by the time he was thirty-four.

II. But this strength of young manhood should also be conserved, One of the most difficult things to impress upon young men is the fact they will not always be overflowing, as they are in their teens and twenties, with strength and spirits. When God makes a man, He puts into him a certain amount of life-force. When that is consumed, there is no way in which it may be replaced. Ruskin overtaxed himself in his younger days, with the result that the lamp of his genius burned but dimly in later life. Walter Scott did the same, and suffered the same fate. Scientists tell us that there is no reason why a man should not live past the century mark in years, if he be well born and if he conserve his strength. It lies within the power of every well-born man so to use the strength which nature has given him that, as the psalmist says, “in old age he shall be fat and flourishing.”

III. This strength of young men should also be concentrated. “This one thing I do.” Success in life depends upon concentration of one’s energies upon one thing. Paul was a successful preacher because he was “determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The sun casts a genial warmth over a large area, but if we wish to light a fire by it we must take the sun-glass and concentrate its rays upon one point.

IV. This power should also be consecrated. This is the capstone and the keystone of all that we have thus far pointed out. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” The subordination of every power and faculty to the law contained in the great commandment will in itself lead to the control, the conservation, and the concentration of power and faculty. (R. S. Young.)

The glory of young men

Man has a threefold nature--physical, mental, and spiritual; body, brain, and soul. Therefore there are three kinds of strength--physical, intellectual, spiritual. There is a close connection between health and virtue. “Before any vice can fasten on a man, his physical nature must be debilitated.” The conditions of health are--

1. We must learn the laws of our physical well-being.

2. We must act and live up to these laws. The laws of health are--pure air, suitable food, and sufficient exercise. You have a healthy craving for innocent recreation. Do not repress it. It is God-implanted, and therefore sacred, sacred as are any of the other Divine instincts within you. You have a many-sided nature, and every side must have a fair chance of development. Intellectual strength. The mind is the measure of the man; it is the empire or kingdom of the soul. The thinker is the acknowledged king of men. A trained mind, developed by reading and reflection, is worth striving for. Moral and spiritual strength. A clever man is greater than a merely strong man, but a good man is greater than either. Moral and spiritual gains are the most enduring. (David Watson.)

The glory of youth and the beauty of age

I. Godliness makes the strength of young men glorious.

1. Because that strength is governed by a glorious inspiration.

2. Because it is directed to glorious ends.

3. Because it endows him with a glorious steadfastness of principle, an unswerving attachment to the right.

4. Because of the glorious reward he will finally attain.

II. Godliness makes the hoary heads of age beautiful.

1. Godly age is beautiful, because of its wealth of experience.

2. Because it is connected with maturity of Christian character.

3. Because of the connection with a holy peace and brightening hope.

III. The beauty of the grey head is the natural and fitting result of the developed glory of youthful strength. Pious strength in the earlier half of life is the seed that ripens into the glad harvest of hopeful, resting readiness which should mark the end.

1. Youthful godliness is likely to secure the beauty of age, because godly principles and practices are best calculated to lengthen life.

2. Because the conduct of youth gives character to age. (Jackson Wray.)

The glory of young men

1. Ideals of manhood have differed with every age. Physical strength was the primary glory of the race. Samson among the Hebrews, Hector among the Trojans, Achilles among the Greeks, and Richard the Lion-hearted among the Crusaders, were as valuable as batteries or battalions now are. Until Christian civilisation changed it, the measure of the man was his muscle, and his passport to respect was his fighting weight. But we live in a different era. Gunpowder and dynamite have abolished physical differences and put all men on a common level. It is not brawn but brain which tell in this age. Christianity has subordinated the material to the mental. “There is nothing great in the world but man; there is nothing great in man but mind.”

2. But there are two kinds of mental strength--a lower and a higher order, the intellectual and the spiritual. There is something better than a clear, cold intellectuality. Man has a heart as well as a head, emotions as well as thoughts. Some of the most atrocious characters in history were men of giant intellect. The Duke of Alva was accomplished and scholarly. As mental strength is higher in rank than the physical, so moral strength is higher than the merely mental. The most valuable possession in this world for a young man is strength of character. With it poverty, obscurity, and ill-health are not misfortunes. Without it wealth, fame, and physical endurance are not blessings. But how little this is appreciated by youth.

3. Every boy longs to be a man. It is a legitimate ambition. But does he know manhood’s perils? The moral innocence of childhood grown into manhood is a thousandfold stronger than reformed manhood, built out of the fragments which were gathered up from the wreck and ruin of the former self.

4. The great arena for the development of moral strength is in conquering one’s self.

5. But how shall this hardest of victories be won--the victory of self? Remember Constantine’s vision. So with you. By the Cross of Christ thou shalt conquer. The testimony of the unrighteous to the worth of religion as a moral armour is an exceedingly valuable testimony. (J. C. Jackson, D. D.)

Muscular Christianity

I. Physical strength. We are prone to glorify and exalt the man of strong intellect at the expense of the muscular man. We are apt to despise physical strength, and look upon it as something very necessary in an ox or horse, but nothing for a Christian to be proud of. The development of physical strength lies very much with ourselves. Physical development is related to mental and moral culture as the foundation to the superstructure which rests upon it. The best students carry their physical and mental training along together. Nor should we lose sight of the influence of physical training upon the morals of the young. Muscular Christianity is the kind of religion that will live, and make itself felt in the world. Mawkish sentimentality is not religion. But if our strength is to be a glory to us it must be consecrated strength. There are those who value their strength, not for the amount of good they can accomplish with it, but for the amount of supposed pleasure or vice their strength enables them to indulge in. Such strength is no glory to young men.

II. Mental strength. No college can confer brains where nature has withheld them; and yet it is true that, as regards intellectual power, we are very much what we make ourselves. It is not those endowed naturally with great talents who rule in the political, social, and religious world. It is those of medium talents, men of activity, diligence, and earnestness, who go up to the top of the ladder--those who deposit their mental capital, such as it is, where it will give the highest interest. Hard work kills very few. The men who live longest are those who combine severe mental labour with proper physical exercise.

III. Moral strength. If a man lack moral strength, he is no giant, but a mere pigmy, in so far as usefulness in the world is concerned. Moral strength consists--

1. In the courage to do the right.

2. To feel our own weakness.

3. Another element in moral strength is a godly life.

A consistent man is a tower of strength. He is a resistless power for good. The godly lives of humble, consistent Christians are the most powerful sermons. (Richmond Logan, M. A.)

The beauty of age

Spring has its charms, peculiar to itself, and so has summer, and so has autumn--each unlike the other, but the last by no means inferior to the others. There is a beauty peculiar to youth, and a beauty that belongs to manhood; is there not a beauty which belongs to age, unlike youth, unlike middle life, but something analogous to the glory of the autumnal foliage? Sometimes we see it. At other times, disease, overwork, trouble, sorrow, are a blight whose wasting has destroyed all beauty. But an old age, a late afternoon, that has escaped this, why should it not be like an autumn afternoon, bright and beautiful? Would it be an improvement to change the turning leaves into fresh green again? Would you rob us of the autumnal beauty, and take the later glory from the hillsides? It is most uncomely in man or woman, when old, to affect youthfulness--in dress and manner, and association, to go back to early life--to endeavour in this to be what one is not. The attempt is always a failure. This is a wheel that can never be turned backward. On the other hand, it is painful to see age anticipated, a premature age affected and taken on. Let the days linger, if they will. Let the leaves continue green, if they may. But there is a beauty, a bloom, a joyousness belonging to the maturity and ripeness of full age. Beauty is not unbecoming age. Bloom is not unbecoming age, neither is joyousness then unbecoming. But let it be itself such as befits age and belongs to it. Let it be the royal purple, running into the dun brown, unlike the verdure of the spring time--its own type of beauty--such as comes only when the sun runs low. In some localities, as the late autumn days are frosty and crisp, you may find by the wayside a flower, there opening its cluster of blossoms in full beauty, in the clear autumn air seeming to have caught the hue of the sky--a pure cerulean blue--the fringed gentian. Why does it blossom so late, with its heavenly hue, unless it be to remind us that there are flowers peculiar to the late autumn of life, and that they should be the evident reflection of heaven? Age may be beautiful with its own adornments. We dwell the longer on this because it is due to age, and because we would dissuade from that mistake, into which some fall, of anticipating and magnifying the sadder aspects of advanced life. As you grow old, be cheerful, if you may. Keep the affections of the heart fresh and warm. If your leaf must fall, forbid it not, while still it hangs, to redden and disport its beauty. If possible, let your sky be open as the sun goes down. (Alfred E. Ives.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 20:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/proverbs-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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