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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Proverbs 28

 

 

Verse 1

Proverbs 28:1

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Christian boldness

In all ages courage has been regarded as a mark of honour and magnanimity, and cowardice has been considered a proof of pusillanimity and baseness. There is something base in cowardice. There is something noble in courage. A name descriptive of a virtue ought never to be applied to what is equivocal or culpable. Yet such is the native dignity of courage, such the value it ever commands, that in its most suspicious forms it possesses a charm which is almost irresistible. On the other hand, it is not for Christian men to judge of timidity as the world judges. There is much that the world accounts cowardly which we regard as noble and magnanimous. The real coward is the slave of his fear, and mankind are right in branding cowardice as vile and contemptible. The brave man is tranquil, firm, concentrated. He is the real master of what belongs to him, because he is master of himself. The text charges cowardice upon sin, and claims for holiness the honours of courage. There is nothing more wonderful in man than the moral faculty which we call conscience. But it may be injured and weakened. There is even the possibility that it may be destroyed. Among the instruments of torture with which conscience afflicts the soul of the sinner is fear. Sin is immediately followed by fear--by the fear of detection, of exposure, of punishment. Under a sense of sin the bravest man becomes a coward. Sin is more especially followed by a fear at the Divine displeasure. Sin is a thing of darkness. It shuns the light. When a man has sinned, his chief care is, that his sin should not be known to others. This becomes a supreme fear. Even when the sinner has no reason to fear man at all, he is not free from feelings of terror. Conscience allows them no peace. They are restless, unsettled, miserable. Changing the picture, the text presents the righteous as “bold as a lion.” The courage of the lion, though by no means a certain thing, has passed into a proverb, and the highest degree of intrepidity is implied by this comparison. We must not forget to make the distinction between physical and moral timidity. There is a timidity which is strictly a bodily infirmity. Where there is uprightness of conduct there is no place for fear. He who has done nothing to be ashamed of cannot dread detection and exposure. He who acts from principle, who does what he does in the fear of God, will not be afraid of the consequences of his actions, because he is well assured that all those consequences are in the hands of the great Disposer. In the discharge of duty “the righteous are bold as a lion.” Theirs is not presumption, for they are trusting on Him who is infinite. It is not desperation, for they can rely on innumerable promises. They present a bold front to the enemy; they feel their superiority. But before Him with whom they have to do, their Father in heaven, there is nought of self-confidence. Trusting in God, they cannot fail. They may bid farewell to doubt and insecurity. Their foundation is a rock; their hope is sure and steadfast. (J. G. Dowling, M.A.)

Sources of courage

The two ingredients that go into the composition of a good soldier are courage and good conduct. Here cowardice and courage are resolved into their first principles. All mankind are distinguished, by their proper characters, into two sorts--wicked and righteous. The wicked are of such base and timorous spirits that they are ready to run away from the least shadow of danger; being haunted with an ill-boding mind, they flee before the spectres of their own fancies. Every wicked man is not actually a coward, for that contradicts experience. There is a sort of valour which naturally springs out of the very temper of men’s bodies, which is nothing else but a certain impetus, or brisk fermentation of the blood and spirits, and this is common to bad men as with good. By the term “righteous” the Scripture is wont to express all good men, because all instances of goodness are acts of righteousness, either to God, or to ourselves, or to our neighbours. Of this sort of men the proper character is “bold as a lion.” At least their righteousness tends to make them so. Illustrate this proposition: that wickedness naturally tends to dishearten and cowardize men, but righteousness and goodness to encourage and embolden them. The things which naturally contribute to make men courageous.

1. That they be free, and within their own command.

2. That they be well hardened to endure difficulties and inconveniences.

3. That they be well satisfied in the nature of their actions and undertakings.

4. That they have a hopeful prospect of being well seconded.

5. That they have a probable security of good success.

6. That they be borne up with the expectation of a glorious reward.

All these causes of courage are to be found in righteousness, and their direct contraries in a sinful and wicked course of life. (John Scott.)

Moral cowardice

This is a fact that may be accounted for on moral grounds. Conscience is the tormentor of the bad man.

1. Then the finest faculties of men may become terrible scourges.

2. Then no dependence is to be placed on the wicked in the time of danger.

3. Then the wicked are always making fools of themselves.

4. Then the wicked cannot bear the judgment of man; how can they endure the vengeance of God?

5. Then man may come to be regarded as the enemy of man. (J. Parker, D.D.)

The difference between the righteous and the wicked in respect of courage and confidence

Scarcely is there anything more consistent and regular in the course of natural productions than that fear and remorse are the offspring of guilt, and religious courage and undauntedness the attendants of integrity. The most striking instance may be found in the behaviour of our primitive parents.

I. Consider this case with respect to the wicked.

1. One reason why they are so liable to be alarmed and put into disorder is shame. Those who do evil wish to conceal their doings. Darkness is not only the principle from which evil deeds flow, but the proper region and retirement where they strive for ever to conceal them.

2. Another cause is fear. That fear gives wings to the transgressor is observed even to a proverb. They who sin can have no real peace or satisfaction of mind. Fear naturally arises from the apprehension of present or future ill. Some indeed there are who have so effectually dosed and qualified their consciences as to pass over a crime with as much indifference as they before committed it. But there is little tranquillity within, though outwardly they seem so airy and serene.

II. How the righteous man acquits himself. The upright man wants no refuge: as he is free from guile and deceit, so he is frank and open in his whole conversation. His integrity is dearer to him than the most pompous acquisitions, and the security of his soul than the gain of the universe. Through the perverse opposition of a censorious and malignant world, the most circumspect cannot always escape despiteful usage. But, confident in God, the good man maintains his ground, stands upon his defence, and is no more to be stormed by assault than perverted by interest. Innocence is the best armour he can put on. Since the difference appears so considerable and important, it cannot be a matter of doubt to any one that calls himself rational to which side his choice ought to be determined. (James Roe, M.A.)

Frights and securities

1. What continual frights those are subject to that go on in wicked ways! Guilt in the conscience makes men a terror to themselves, so that they are ready to flee when no man pursueth; like one that absconds for debt, who thinks every one he meets a bailiff. Though they pretend to be easy, there are secret fears which haunt them wherever they go, so that they fear where no present or imminent danger is. Those that have made God their enemy, and know it, cannot but see the whole creation at war with them, and therefore can have no true enjoyment of themselves, no confidence, no courage, but a fearful looking for of judgment. Sin makes men cowards.

2. What a holy security and serenity of mind those enjoy who keep conscience void of offence, and so keep themselves in the love of God. In the greatest dangers the righteous have a God of almighty power to trust to. Whatever difficulties they meet with in the way of their duty, they are not daunted by them. (Matthew Henry.)

Lion-like boldness of the righteous

The righteous are those who do right. Saxon of righteous is “right wise.” Before man had fallen the righteous were those who were conformed, in all respects, to the known will of God. Now, as fallen creatures, none can claim to be righteous, according to the strict requirements of the law. Some, however, may be spoken of, in a comparative sense, as righteous. The eleventh article says, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith.” A certain quality is ascribed to such persons: they are “bold as a lion.” This is a proverbial expression from ancient times.

I. Boldness is indispensable at the very beginning of the Christian course. Does it require no boldness to obey the gospel call? Let those answer who have gone through with the painful struggle which it costs before the mind can be brought to a decided stand.

II. Boldness is required in the discharge of the duties which must be met day by day. What bright examples of courage have been placed before us in the lives of the saints of God--Moses, Caleb and Joshua, David, Elijah, etc.; and in the history of the martyrs and confessors of the Church--e.g., Athanasius, Ridley, and Latimer. Those brave souls are now acting the same noble part who, in these days of blasphemy and rebuke, are not afraid to show favour to God’s children who may be under a cloud of reproach and trodden underfoot by the mighty. In more ordinary matters, the same boldness is indispensable.

III. the boldness of the righteous is manifested at the approach of death. There is something in human nature which instinctively shrinks back at the thought of dissolution. But when the righteous man actually draws near the border-line, the fear of death is gone. Then let us all cultivate the decision, the boldness, and the endurance, which our profession demands. (John N. Norton.)

Conscience

Pursuit and flight are in nature correlatives, and constitute an inseparable pair. A swift foot does not avail the man who is fleeing from himself. When they escape from man, God is the pursuer of the guilty. A reflector fixed in the human constitution points ever to its author, as the magnet points to its pole, whatever the windings of life may be. In effect, God is present in every human breast. Conscience within a man is one extremity of an electric wire whose other extremity is fastened to the judgment-seat. This apparatus brings the Judge and the criminal terribly near to each other. Conscience is in many respects the most wonderful element in the constitution of man. It is the point of closest contact and most intimate communion between us and the Father of our spirits. Thereby chiefly God apprehends us, thereby chiefly we apprehend God. Who shall settle the controversy between an unclean conscience and a just God? The question points, as John did, to the Lamb of God who taketh sin away. There is one Mediator between God and man. Terrors are sent as messages of mercy to arouse loiterers, and compel them to flee. It is better to be roughly awakened to safety than to perish asleep. (W. Arnot, D.D.)


Verses 1-28

Verse 6

Proverbs 28:6

Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.

Christianity, the health of a people

The poor man who walks in his integrity, must be supposed to possess that practical wisdom so much spoken of in this book. The rich man who is perverse in his ways is destitute of this wisdom. The presumed difference between the poor man and the rich is in the possession of true religious principle.

I. The influence which true religion exerts in reference to the duties of life. There has been a tendency to speak of useful knowledge as if it did not include religious knowledge. Useful knowledge must be that which equips man for immortality. If a man is imbued with the fear of God, he has a principle which must accompany him into all the intercourse of life, and exert an influence over each portion of his conduct.

II. The influence which true religion exerts in reference to the trials of life. The poor cottager finds in the promises of Scripture a mighty counterpoise to all the troubles by which he is oppressed. Christianity does not diminish labour or prevent sorrow or death, but it does give strength, and cheer, and hope. Religion has such a power of softening what is rugged, enlightening what is dark, sustaining under the heaviest pressure, and encouraging in the most perplexed circumstances, that as nothing can supply its place, so its possession more than compensates every other want. (H. Melvill, B.D.)


Verse 8

Proverbs 28:8

He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.

Dishonesty

A matter-of-fact Englishman, writing about the uselessness of abstract preaching, says that, during ten years’ residence in a country parish, he became well acquainted with the characteristic temptations, failings, tricks and vices, and crimes of the people, and he longed to hear something from the pulpit calculated to meet the emergencies of the case. Ten long years the drowsy pulpit poured forth its dull platitudes; the clergyman never coming down from the clouds long enough to let the dishonest, the cruel, and the dissipated understand that they know nothing practically concerning the imitation of Christ until they have asked themselves how He would have acted if He had vegetables to sell or horses to drive. Wealth, in days of undefiled English, meant well-being, and is now used to describe money--money more than all beside; and worth, or worthiness, has degenerated into a term to express how much of “filthy lucre” that one has contrived to get hold of. The cool contempt of money which some old cynics and philosophers expressed was little more than affectation. Had they been lucky enough to have any, their estimate of it might have been different. A man of wealth, who behaves himself properly, and puts on no airs, is as much to be respected as his poorest neighbours. Let this be remembered, however, it must be wealth honestly come by. When greed of gain has secured a lodgment in the heart, it imperiously demands satisfaction. In countries where civilisation is unknown it turns freebooter, and leagues with bands of kindred spirits; while in Christian lands it puts on more respectable shapes, not so shocking to the casual observer. The rude robber stops his victim on the highway, and holds midnight revels on the spoil; and the cunning accountant defrauds his creditors, and rides in his carriage. Does a just God see much difference between them? Christian integrity will, in the end, always receive its merited reward. Instead of worldly maxims, based on low and unworthy principles, let the solemn question of our Lord keep us from evil ways--“What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (John N. Norton.)

Usury

Usury is here to be understood of every description of oppressive, unrighteous, and rigorous exaction. The providence of a just and merciful God is evidently here referred to. That providence transfers wealth from the hand of grasping and griping selfishness to that of humanity and generous kindness, to that of the man who “pities the poor.” Men may not mark the Divine hand in occurrences of this kind; and it is always a delicate matter for us--one to which we are hardly equal--to interpret providence judicially. But there are cases at times in which the transference is so striking that it would be impiety not to see and own God in it. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)


Verse 9

Proverbs 28:9

He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.

The prayer of the disobedient

The duty of rendering his best obedience to the Divine precepts is one which man has perpetually been called to recognise, under both dispensations. Man, as a fallen being, with alienated affections, debased tendencies, and distorted views, required precise directions as to his future course. The Divine claims to obedience were in no way relaxed; but the power of exhibiting that obedience, and even an adequate knowledge of its requirements, were wanting. If we are dependent creatures--unable to support ourselves, it is manifestly the part of wisdom to secure the continual support of Him who has promised that the rays of His favour shall evermore be reflected on His followers. Be careful to take a sufficiently comprehensive view of the demands thus made upon you. You are not to imagine that by scrupulous attention to one department of Christian duty you may obtain a virtual absolution for the neglect of another. It is not through the regular use of words of supplication or thanksgiving that everything can be accomplished. In what spirit have they prostrated themselves before the Divine footstool? Has it been with the sincere resolution of striving, in all time to come, to do the will of their Father which is in heaven? Has it been with the determination of henceforward applying themselves with all diligence to ascertain and observe His sacred statutes? The reason for not receiving gracious answers to prayer may be that the heart has never been surrendered to God; there has been a lamentable and utter absence of true faith and love. The object of the inspired writer, in our text, is to set forth, in the most striking point of view, the heinousness and dire consequences of neglecting practically to honour the Divine statutes. There are those who, while with their lips they show forth God’s praise, are yet statedly and deliberately neglecting some duty, indulging in some sin, pursuing some course of which the “end is death.” If you would profit by His clemency, you must strive to obey His laws. If you would obtain His blessings, you must zealously and perseveringly devote yourselves to His service. (Hugh B. Moffat, M.A.)

Conditions of communion with God

1. It is by the Word of God and prayer that our communion with God is kept up. God speaks to us by His law, and expects we should hear Him and heed Him; we speak to Him by prayer, to which we wait for an answer of peace.

2. If God’s Word be not regarded by us, our prayers shall not only not be acceptable to God, but they shall be an abomination to Him; not only our sacrifices, which were ceremonial appointments, but even our prayers, which are moral duties, and which, when they are put up by the upright, are so much His delight. The sinner whose prayers God is thus angry at is one who wilfully and obstinately refuses to obey God’s commandments, who will not so much as give them the hearing, but causes his ear to decline the law, and refuses when God calls. God will therefore justly refuse him when he calls. (Matthew Henry.)


Verse 10

Proverbs 28:10

Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit.

Opposite characters and opposite destinies

I. Here are the opposite characters--the perverse and the upright.

1. Notice the perverse. Who are the perverse? “Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way.” Two things are observable here.

2. The upright. The upright here stand in contrast to those who tempt the righteous to go astray. Who are the upright? The men of incorruptible truth, inflexible rectitude; the men, in one word, who “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” Job was an upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil.

II. Opposite destinies.

1. The destiny of the one is self-ruin. “Shall fall himself into his own pit.”

2. The destiny of the other is a blessed inheritance. “The upright shall have good things in possession.” (Homilist.)


Verse 13

Proverbs 28:13

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.

The danger of covering our sins

I. The danger.

1. In respect of God. Sin cannot be covered, cannot admit of excuse. So far as sin may be covered or excused, so far it is not sin, at least not liable to punishment. Notice the difference betwixt moral and commercial laws. Ceremonies are arbitrary; laws, as a rule of life, are real and eternal. Those sins which break moral laws receive no cover or palliation. To imagine that God will admit of excuse for the breach of such law as is eternal were to turn His justice into iniquity, and His wisdom into folly. The two attributes of God, His wisdom and His power, are the highest attributes which He hath. God is more jealous of His wisdom than of His power. He that committeth sin dallieth with His power; but he that covereth and palliateth sin playeth with His wisdom. God forgiveth the greatest sins when they are laid open and confessed, but casteth an angry look and layeth a heavy hand upon those sins which would hide and cover themselves with excuses. What a dangerous thing it is to study to cover a sin! “That must needs be the greatest sin which maketh every sin greater.” In denial and concealment, though we deny the fact, yet we acknowledge it to be evil.

2. In respect of ourselves. There is no sin to which our nature more strongly inclineth us than this of covering and excusing our sin. It is the very nature of sin, not only to infect the soul, but to bewitch it, that it shall either not feel it or not be willing to evaporate and expel it. Though God hath set up a tribunal in our hearts, and made every man a judge of his own actions, yet there is no tribunal on earth so much corrupted and swayed from its power and jurisdiction as this. No man is so well pleased with any cheat as that which he putteth upon himself. Our conscience checketh us, and we silence it; sin appeareth, and we cover it. This covering of sin is more natural than any sin beside. We cannot name any that agreeth with all natures and complexions as this doth. Excuse, as a servant, waiteth upon all, and is officious to offer attendance on the foulest. God hath imprinted upon man a natural shame of sin. God left this impression of shame upon us to keep us within compass, that we should not commit sin. But, too often, what was made as a means to prevent sin is made a cloak to cover it. Shame is a good buckler to oppose against sin.

II. The remedy. Penitential confession reaching even to the mercy-seat. Sin is never less deformed in the eye of God than when it is in its own shape. Sin is never more sin, hath never more in it, than when it is covered. He that confesseth his sin hath found a plaster for it. (A. Farindon, B.D.)

Covering sins

Men’s sins are often well known, when they flatter themselves that they are unknown, and the attempt to conceal deceives none but themselves. Sin is in itself too odious to appear without some disguise, and most men wish to be thought better than they are; but the policy is both weak and dangerous. To attempt to hide our sins from the eye of God is atheistical and vain. The mantle of Divine love is sufficient to cover all iniquity, and the interposing blood of atonement to secure from the inflictions of eternal wrath. There is also a love among brethren which covers a multitude of sins, and forms an amiable part of the Christian character. A truly good man will be tender towards every one’s failings but his own. The charity we exercise towards others is, however, very different from those excuses which we are too apt to form for ourselves.

I. Who are they who may be said to cover their sins?

1. Those who endeavour to conceal themselves under falsehood, as did the servant of Elisha.

2. Those who palliate and excuse themselves in sin, by endeavouring to shift the blame on others, belong to the same class.

3. The attempt to dissemble and disguise sin, by specious pretences, is another way of covering it.

4. There are some who even justify and plead for sin, and these certainly can need but little disguise.

5. Sin is sometimes covered by vain and ineffectual endeavour to satisfy and atone for it.

II. Consider the folly and danger of every false disguise. “Shall not prosper.”

1. His hopes shall be disappointed, and the end he had in view defeated. It is of no use to deny, to palliate, or in any other way to hide our sins, for God hath set them all in the light of His countenance.

2. Artifice and disguise shall not prosper, even as to our temporal interests.

3. Those who indulge in any manner of deceit shall be utter strangers to spiritual prosperity. Sin is the distemper of the soul; and covering it with false disguises only tends to increase the evil, and make it more dangerous.

4. A course of dissimulation will end in utter ruin and despair. God will neither be deceived nor mocked. Learn--

Covering sin

Certain great iron castings have been ordered for a railway-bridge. The thickness has been calculated according to the extent of the span and the weight of the load. The contractor constructs his moulds according to the specification, and when all is ready, pours in the molten metal. In the process of casting, through some defect in the mould, portions of air lurk in the heart of the iron, and cavities like those of a honeycomb are formed in the interior of the beam; but all defects are hid, and flaws are effectually concealed. The artisan has covered his fault, but he will not prosper. As soon as it is subjected to a strain the beam gives way. Sin covered becomes a rotten hollow in a human soul, and when the strain comes the false gives way. (W. Arnot, D.D.)

A false covering and a safe refuge

I. The false and deceptive refuge. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper.”

1. This is the course which men usually adopt when they enter on a course of sin. They are conscious that they are doing wrong, and they try to cover and conceal what they are doing. They resort to a variety of expedients. Some flatly deny them. Others cover their sins by evasion, or they shift the blame off upon others. Some plead their weakness, and the circumstances in which they were placed. Many plead the practice of others. It is the custom of the trade. The vilest class attempt to cover their sins by glorying in them.

2. Note the folly of such conduct. Such a man shall not succeed in the attempt to cover his sins. And he shall not escape from the consequences of his sins, however he attempts to conceal them. Sin brings its own punishments to the man who commits it.

II. The more excellent way which is here commended.

1. The condition of forgiveness. We must confess our sins. We must forsake them.

2. These conditions are not the only ground of forgiveness. In God there is not only provision made for forgiveness, but also for our help to resist sin, and escape from it. (A.Clark.)

The consequences of covering sin

I. In reference to others. He who covers sin is a hypocrite, who always wears a mask. He conceals bad principles under an avowed zeal for good ones; bad purposes under a noisy reprobation of such purposes; and a bad system of iniquity under the mask of extraordinary purity and piety.

II. In reference to ourselves. Man possesses the astonishing, but awful power of practising deceit upon himself, and concealing his sins from his own view. This he does--

1. By decreasing their number. This is done by rejecting the Divine law as the standard, and by adopting as the standard the lax notions of worldly and irreligious men.

2. By diminishing their enormity. This is done by pleading the impetuosity of the passions; the strength of temptation; as a set-off against bad works the multitude of good ones. But he who hides his sins from others shall not eventually prosper. And he who hides his sins from himself cannot prosper.

Now, consider the nature and advantage of confessing and forsaking sin.

1. Our confession must be spiritual.

2. Our sin must be confessed as a great evil.

3. Our sin must be confessed as deserving special punishment.

From hence we learn that the prospect of those who cover their sins, either from themselves or others, is most appalling; that no sinner, however guilty, and depraved, and miserable, need despair, for he may yet be saved. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Sin covered or confessed

I. Covered sin and no prosperity.

1. What is the meaning of covering sin?

2. How do men cover sin?

3. Covered sin a failure. Shall not prosper. This does not refer to temporal, but spiritual prosperity. This is not an arbitrary arrangement. The same power by which night and day succeed each other has promulgated, and will enforce the law that says, “Bad lives, unpardoned, shall be punished.” Sin cannot be successfully cloaked, but will be discovered and punished.

II. Confessed and forsaken sin and mercy.

1. “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them.” Prompt confession, followed by prompt forgiveness. Confession involving forsaking. Profession attended with consistent practice. The reform of the outward life, and the healing of the soul.

2. “Shall have mercy.” This is not a subject of doubt. It was the experience of the psalmist (Psalms 32:5). The apostle believed and taught it (Romans 4:5). John has put it beyond speculation (1 John 1:8-9). Mercy is yours if you will fulfil the conditions. (J. E. Hargreaves.)

Man’s treatment of his own sins

1. All men have sins.

2. All men have something to do with their sins.

3. All men deal with their sins either foolishly or wisely.

I. The foolish treatment of our sins. “He that covereth his sins.”

1. By denying them. Thus Cain, Rachel, Joseph’s brethren, Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, endeavoured to hide their sin.

2. By extenuating them. Men plead excuses.

3. By forgetting them. They endeavour to sweep them from the memory by revelry, by sensuality, worldliness, and intemperance. Sins must reveal themselves sooner or later.

II. The wise treatment of our sins. “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)

A serious contrast

I. Man’s covering, and its failure. There are many ways in which men try to cover their sins. Excuse-making is the commonest trade under heaven. Some cover by secrecy and some by falsehood. Some think their sin has been hidden away by lapse of time.

II. God’s covering, and its success. By the atoning sacrifice which was presented by the Lord Jesus. Before God covers sins He unveils them. The covering is as broad as the sin; it completely covers, and for ever covers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 14

Proverbs 28:14

Happy is the man that feareth always.

The happiness of fearing alway

He who sincerely confesses and forsakes his sins will be afraid of sin for the future, having felt the smart of it.

I. What is the fear that men ought to maintain alway? It is a fear of God for Himself, and a fear of other things for God, or in reference to Him. We ought to entertain--

1. A filial and reverential fear of God. Slavish fear will never make a man happy. Slavish fear is mixed with hatred of God; filial fear with love to Him.

2. We must entertain a fear of jealousy over ourselves.

3. A fear of caution and circumspection. This makes a man walk warily.

II. Some things in relation to which we should entertain this holy fear.

1. With respect to himself. Happy is the man who keeps a jealous eye over himself. Be jealous over your principles, your hearts, your tongues, and your senses.

2. With respect to our lusts and corruptions. He is happy who can say he fears nothing so much as sin. Fear the sin of your nature; sins by which you have been formerly led astray. These forsaken lovers will again make suit to you, and will get in upon you, if you grow secure. Fear little sins. There is no sin really little, but many most dangerous ones that are little in man’s esteem.

3. With respect to our graces. Grace is a gift to be stirred up. It is in hazard of decay, though not of death. The way to keep the treasure is to fear.

4. With respect to our duties. The whole worship and service of God is called fear; so necessary is our fear in approaching Him.

5. With respect to our attainments. They are in hazard of being lost.

III. The necessary qualification of this duty. “Alway.” This fear must be our habitual and constant work. This fear should season all we do, and be with us at all times, cases, conditions, places, and companies. Because--

1. We have always the enemy within our walls. While a body of sin remains within us, temptations will always be presenting themselves.

2. Because there are snares for us in all places and in all circumstances. There are snares in our lawful enjoyments; snares at home, in the field, waking, and at table. Many ditches are in our way, and many of these are so concealed that we may fall completely into them before we are aware. At all times we are beset.

IV. The advantage attending this duty. “Happy.” For--

1. This prevents much sin, and advanceth holiness of heart and life. He that fears to offend God is most likely to keep His way.

2. It prevents strokes from the Lord’s hand. Where sin dines judgment will sup. Holy fear prevents falls.

3. This fear carries the soul out of itself to the Lord Jesus Christ, the fountain of light, life, and strength. Improvement:

Fear lest your sharing in Christian privileges leave your affections more deadened, and your consciences more seared. To all of you I say, “Fear alway.” (T. Boston, D.D.)

A holy fear

What is this Bible-enjoined fearing? It is not the paralysis of terror, the shrinking and subsiding into nothingness of the craven spirit within. It is the ballast of the soul. Calm cautiousness. It is our Scotch maxim, “Ca’ canny!” Retrospective, introspective, perspective, circumspective. Nervousness of experience, caution, cannyness of reflection, the fearing here embodies.

I. The action. “Feareth.” It is evangelical fear, for only the gospel can bring it. It is three-faced. The first outlook of it is towards God. The fear of God is not that turbulent tornado of terror that tears up and destroys; it is the gentle fall of the summer rain on the thirsty soil; it is the soft dew-descent of the Holy Ghost; it is the fear of God for himself. It is the holy hush in His almighty presence, the calm instinct of regeneration that gives sympathetic dignity to the soul. It is the “strength of the Lord.” Another outlook of this fear is towards yourself. Your worst enemy is your next-door neighbour, and on his gate is your own name. He is yourself. To draw illustration from mining, your heart is full of inflammable gas. Sin fills every chink, and it is all ready for the tempting flame. Another outlook of this fear is towards your surroundings. Look up, look in, but also look round. The world is an intertwined network of devildom. Take care, beware!

II. The time for this action. The longest day has a nightfall. In this activity of the soul no swinging bell heralds a release; without a break or gap the night-shift succeeds to day, and the day-shift to night, and the same worker is in both. “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” At all times, in all circumstances, in all companies, you are in danger of going to the bottom. Alway fearing is alway safe.

III. The consequence of it. “Happy is the man.” Because for time and eternity he is ready. It is never waste of wind or time to keep to the path, even though it wind and wind like an eternal corkscrew. He is happy because this fear saves him from the fear of man. That fear ever bringeth a snare. The Christian filled with the gospel fear of God is happy, too, because it empties the soul. You and I are unblessed to-day because we are too full. (John Robertson.)

The happy influence of fear

He is not an unhappy man whose heart is continually governed by this fear. It has a happy influence upon his soul, to guard it from the temptations of Satan and the world, and to keep it close to the Redeemer. It tends not to obstruct but to promote the exercise of faith and hope and joy in the Lord. Thus fear is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and a blessed means of establishing the heart in the love of God. It is a happy sign of an interest in the everlasting covenant of mercy, and in that special favour of God which is the source of all our joys. But wretched is the man who is not afraid to sin against his Maker and Judge. His heart is hard as the nether millstone. (George Lawson, D.D.)

Holy fear

Holy fear is a searching the camp that there be no enemy within our bosom to betray us, and seeing that all be fast and sure. For I see many leaky vessels fair before the wind, and professors who take their conversion upon trust, and they go on securely, and see not the under water till a storm sink them. (H. G. Salter.)

But he that hardeneth his heart shall fan into mischief.

Hardening the heart

The whole system of moral and religious duty is expressed as the “fear of God.” The religion which makes fear the great principle of action, implicitly condemns all self-confidence, all presumptuous security; and enjoins a constant state of vigilance and caution, a perpetual distrust of our own hearts, a full conviction of our natural weakness, and an earnest solicitude for Divine assistance.

I. What he is to fear, whose fear will make him happy. The primary object of fear is sin. The dread of sin produces the dread of temptation. The continual recurrence of temptation and the imbecility of nature make many doubtful of the possibility of salvation. In fear many have fled from possibilities of temptation into deserts and monasteries. But this is not the worthy way of meeting fear. And in cloisters men do not escape from themselves. True fear is a constant sense of the Divine presence, and dread of the Divine displeasure. True fear inspires prayer.

II. What is meant by hardness of heart. Hardness of heart is a thoughtless neglect of the Divine law: such an acquiescence in the pleasures of sense, and such delight in the pride of life, as leaves no place in the mind for meditation on higher things. To such men Providence is seldom wholly inattentive. They are often called to the remembrance of their Creator, both by blessings and afflictions; by recoveries from sickness, by deliverances from danger, by loss of friends, and by miscarriage of transactions. As these calls are neglected, the hardness is increased, and there is danger lest He whom they have refused to hear should call them no more. This state of dereliction is the highest degree of misery.

III. How, or by what causes, the heart is hardened. The most dangerous hardness proceeds from some enormous wickedness, of which the criminal dreads the recollection, and finding a temporal ease in negligence and forgetfulness, by degrees confirms himself in stubborn impenitence. A less dangerous hardness consists, not in the perversion of the will, but in the alienation of the thoughts: by such hearts God is not defied; He is only forgotten. Of this forgetfulness the general causes are worldly cares and sensual pleasures. Such men are usually either stupidly or profanely negligent of these external duties of religion, which are instituted to excite and preserve the fear of God. A great part of them whose hearts are thus hardened may justly impute that insensibility to the violation of the Sabbath. Many enjoyments, innocent in themselves, may become dangerous by too much frequency. Whatever tends to diminish the fear of God, or abate the tenderness of conscience, must be diligently avoided.

IV. The consequence of hardness of heart. “Shall fall into mischief”--both into wickedness and misery. He that hardeneth his heart shall surely become both wicked and miserable. (S. Johnson, LL.D.)


Verse 20

Proverbs 28:20; Proverbs 28:22

He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

Haste to be rich

Nowhere does the Bible denounce riches. It tells men very plainly what the dangers are. It denounces very strongly the conduct of rich men. But the motive to good conduct, in the Old Testament period, was the promise of secular prosperity--abundance. The Bible asserts that riches are a great blessing; and poverty a great misfortune. It is the method of God’s development and education of the race to bring men up to higher levels by those processes by which men develop larger means, various riches, and the comforts of life, and give to the household broader foundations, ampler powers. It goes against the educated religious feeling of men for one to say that the way of riches was meant to be the way of religion; yet it is true. All barbarous nations are poor. The Bible speaks the sentiment of universal mankind when it regards riches held in the hand of virtue as being an eminent blessing from God.

I. Riches may either be produced or collected. The foundation of all prosperity is production. He increases the riches of a society that applies his reason and skill to the raw material of the globe, or that brings it from inertness to positive service, and gives to matter the power of serving man. He produces wealth. Then comes the man who utilises it; creates it into garments, houses, utensils, etc. The foundation of all value is not what a thing costs in making it, but what is inherent in it of thought and skill. What part of man was used in producing it; and to what part of a man is such properly addressed? The man who produces wealth is the foundation man. It is the law of the production of wealth that a man should render an equivalent for every stage of value. Sudden wealth is not hasty wealth, necessarily.

II. The production of wealth connects itself with benevolence, with sympathy. The man who is developing property, as distinguished from money, is actually increasing the common wealth. It is a sad thing, but in the main true, that the producers of wealth are obliged to eat up the larger part of their product in order to have strength to work. But every man that is developing or producing riches is, at the same time, educating himself in morals, or should be. Patience is a moral quality; another name for self-control. The man who gets wealth legitimately is usually himself built up in inward riches fully as much as he builds up his estate in outward wealth.

III. Haste to be rich is a great danger to men, because it tempts them to employ illegitimate means. Sleights, crafts, disingenuous ways, greed, violations of honesty. Haste runs along the edge of so many dangers, that a man’s head must be peculiarly well set on his shoulders, and his brain must be very solid and sober, if he does not topple over into them. A man that is making haste to be rich is tempted to ostentation. But ostentation is expensive, and men are easily tempted to devise schemes to maintain it. Men having sudden wealth are apt to become cruel through indifference to other men’s rights. Haste is apt to change into idolatry. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 22

Proverbs 28:20; Proverbs 28:22

He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

Haste to be rich

Nowhere does the Bible denounce riches. It tells men very plainly what the dangers are. It denounces very strongly the conduct of rich men. But the motive to good conduct, in the Old Testament period, was the promise of secular prosperity--abundance. The Bible asserts that riches are a great blessing; and poverty a great misfortune. It is the method of God’s development and education of the race to bring men up to higher levels by those processes by which men develop larger means, various riches, and the comforts of life, and give to the household broader foundations, ampler powers. It goes against the educated religious feeling of men for one to say that the way of riches was meant to be the way of religion; yet it is true. All barbarous nations are poor. The Bible speaks the sentiment of universal mankind when it regards riches held in the hand of virtue as being an eminent blessing from God.

I. Riches may either be produced or collected. The foundation of all prosperity is production. He increases the riches of a society that applies his reason and skill to the raw material of the globe, or that brings it from inertness to positive service, and gives to matter the power of serving man. He produces wealth. Then comes the man who utilises it; creates it into garments, houses, utensils, etc. The foundation of all value is not what a thing costs in making it, but what is inherent in it of thought and skill. What part of man was used in producing it; and to what part of a man is such properly addressed? The man who produces wealth is the foundation man. It is the law of the production of wealth that a man should render an equivalent for every stage of value. Sudden wealth is not hasty wealth, necessarily.

II. The production of wealth connects itself with benevolence, with sympathy. The man who is developing property, as distinguished from money, is actually increasing the common wealth. It is a sad thing, but in the main true, that the producers of wealth are obliged to eat up the larger part of their product in order to have strength to work. But every man that is developing or producing riches is, at the same time, educating himself in morals, or should be. Patience is a moral quality; another name for self-control. The man who gets wealth legitimately is usually himself built up in inward riches fully as much as he builds up his estate in outward wealth.

III. Haste to be rich is a great danger to men, because it tempts them to employ illegitimate means. Sleights, crafts, disingenuous ways, greed, violations of honesty. Haste runs along the edge of so many dangers, that a man’s head must be peculiarly well set on his shoulders, and his brain must be very solid and sober, if he does not topple over into them. A man that is making haste to be rich is tempted to ostentation. But ostentation is expensive, and men are easily tempted to devise schemes to maintain it. Men having sudden wealth are apt to become cruel through indifference to other men’s rights. Haste is apt to change into idolatry. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 23

Proverbs 28:23

He that rebuketh a man.

Reproof

I. Regard reproof as a duty.

1. Speaking generally, we may be bound to administer reproof out of regard to the individuals to whom we may address ourselves. An obligation rests upon us to love our neighbours as ourselves. This obligation requires us, of course, to study to promote their welfare. If we saw a man thoughtlessly going near the heel of a horse that was likely to kick at him, and to imperil his life, we should instinctively caution him to avoid the danger. If we knew a friend about to take in hand a business which, from our knowledge and experience, we were quite sure would prove his ruin, we should certainly give him the benefit of our opinion. Much more, therefore, when we see him doing anything or neglecting to do anything to the injury of his character, his usefulness, his happiness, or his eternal well-being, shall we go and faithfully acquaint him with our opinion of his conduct.

2. Another reason why we should give reproof may be the regard we have, not simply to the individuals to whom we may address ourselves, but to the interests of society.

3. There is only one other reason which we would touch upon--we mean, the mind of God upon the matter, as it is revealed in Holy Scripture (Leviticus 19:17). Let us now notice some particular classes of persons upon whom this duty devolves.

II. The spirit and manner in which reproof ought to be administered.

1. It should be given in a spirit of prayer. There are differences of natural constitution, and differences of natural judgment, which may affect a person’s fitness to discharge the duty; but no man ought to set about such a work without lifting up his heart to God, that his words may be uttered with wisdom, that the opening of his lips may be with grace.

2. A spirit of love ought, also, to influence us. We should be most watchful lest a feeling of anger, wrath, or malice should prompt us, and the hatred of the offence should be lost in the indulgence of our ill-temper and pride.

3. Our reproof, also, should vary in its mode, according to the disposition of the person to be reproved.

4. Reproofs, though deserved, should be administered with a sparing hand. Incessant finding fault defeats its own end. It only irritates the reproved.

5. In rebuking, take care not to overstate the fault. The offender is generally prejudiced in his own favour. He will be apt to think that even a fair statement is excessive; much more will he detect injustice, if he be unfairly charged.

III. The effects which reproof is calculated to produce. It should produce, of course, always the fruit of righteousness. The life of the reproved ought to be amended; the good advice ought to be taken in a thankful and obedient spirit. This is not unfrequently the case, but oftentimes it is the contrary.

1. Some men are scornful, and obstinately wicked. It is likely to prove discouraging, to use no stronger word, to attempt to bring them out of their faults and errors. There is little good to be got by reproving the confirmed sinner. Your reward will be, probably, that he will hatch up some slanderous report to blacken or blot your character.

2. We may indulge a hope, however, although this be so in bad and extreme cases, that a happier consequence may oftentimes be looked for. This our text encourages us to expect. It is written, “He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with his tongue.” Even men who are wise and good may be irritated, annoyed, and for a season be offended with us; but, when the disturbance in the atmosphere shall have subsided, it shall be more clear and healthy than it was before. The man’s good-sense, assisted or produced by the Holy Spirit of God will triumph over his passion; and he will feel no disposition to complain of the bitter medicine that was administered to him. The reproof which has been given him will send him to his knees. It will lead him to pray that he may see his errors, and that he may have grace to overcome them. (T. W. Thompson, M.A.)


Verse 26

Proverbs 28:26

He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.

The folly of trusting in our own hearts

I. What is meant by a man trusting his heart. It is--

1. To commit and resign up the entire conduct of his life and actions to the directions of it, as of a guide. A guide should be able to lead and direct him; and a guide should faithfully give the best directions.

II. Wherein the foolishness of it consists. Two things render a trust foolish.

1. The thing which we commit to a trust. We commit three things to the mercy of this trust--the honour of God; our own felicity here; the eternal concernments of our soul hereafter. The honour of God as Creator, Governor, Saviour, and gracious Father; our happiness in this world, both temporal and spiritual. Is the heart worthy of such trust? Nay, it is weak, and so cannot make good a trust. In point of apprehension, it cannot perceive and understand certainly what is good. In point of election, it cannot choose and embrace it. Moreover, it is deceitful, and so will not make good a trust. The delusions of the heart relate to the commission of sin; the performance of duty; a man’s conversion or change of his spiritual estate. The heart of man will draw him on to sin by persuading him he can keep it in bounds; by leading him into occasions of sin; by lessening and extenuating it in his esteem. A man’s heart will persuade him that a cessation from sin is a plenary conquest and mortification of sin. (R. South.)

Strange self-deception

By what sophistry, what perversity of the understanding, what negligence it is, that the tremendous prospect of eternity and judgment has really so little to do with the formation of our opinions, and the regulation of our conduct. Two propositions may be established by this inquiry.

1. From the deficient practice of those calling themselves Christians, we are by no means justified in the inference that their judgments are not therefore convinced of the truth of the doctrines they profess to believe.

2. If, in defiance of incalculable hopes and terrors of another world, man is still unable to keep that guard over the inclinations of his heart which may secure his innocence, the entire removal of so potent a check could surely have no other tendency than to complete the degradation of his nature, and to dislocate the whole fabric of society.

With regard to the question before us--

1. Although the highest achievement of a course of moral and religious discipline be, to subject our every thought and action to the control of conscience and religion only, yet in every stage short of this highest exaltation of character it is to far inferior impulses that even our most plausible actions owe their birth. In his natural state passion, not principle, forms the mainspring of action. As moral education advances, impulses ripen into knowledge. Where he once only felt, he now reasons. But it will be long ere his original constitution will change its bias. In this intermediate state of moral improvement our conviction may indeed be sincere, but our conduct will still be defective. With the greater part of mankind action almost invariably outruns reflection. If the want of union between reason and appetite be the first source of sin, our amendment must depend upon establishing their connection. One cause of that strange indifference on the subject of religion manifested by many may be traced to that callousness of mind, that apathy arising from satiety, which all of us have felt when our minds for a long period together have been occupied with one predominant idea, however originally interesting. The only remedy we can apply is still the same calculating and systematic counteraction produced by habitual meditation and discipline which we have already recommended. A last inducement to sin is that natural tendency of our constitution, whether intellectual or physical, to adapt itself to the medium in which it is placed, and to vary its own habits and propensities and feelings according to the accidental association of external circumstances. (P. N. Shuttleworth, D.D.)

The height of folly

Let me ask you to look at the closing clause of the previous verse, for it appears to me to have a very immediate relation to our text. “He that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” On the one hand is Jehovah, all strong, all wise; and on the other one’s evilly disposed, vacillating heart. In whom dost thou trust? Those who trust Jehovah become fat and flourishing; He honours their faith, He prospers the work of their hands; but leanness of soul and lack of real blessing must be the result of trusting to one’s inner consciousness, or past experience, or anything of self.

I. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool,” because of the divine verdict on the human heart. It is not as though we were left to our own estimate of the natural heart. If we were, since it is natural to us to think well of ourselves, we could hardly be called fools for trusting in these hearts of ours. We have a higher verdict; One who knows, far better than we can, has published the innate character of the human heart. We need not be in ignorance as to what God thinks of us. He is the authority on this matter. He made the heart. True, He did not make it sinful or foolish; He made it pure and holy, prepared for every good word and work. But, knowing as He does how beautiful it was at the outset, He can best judge of the marring of it. He knows, too, that the more beautiful and glorious it was at first, the greater is its wreck and ruin. We are aware of the fact that those things which are most finely constructed, when they do suffer damage suffer very materially. The wreck is all the greater, and repair is more difficult because of the delicacy of construction. Well, God knew how pure the human heart was made, what capabilities it possessed, what possibilities lay latent there. He knows, too, the damage sin has done. God does not look upon the fall as a slight accident which could be easily remedied. What does He say of the human heart as it is, by reason of its sin? He says, “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Moreover, God in another place has plainly written, “The heart of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Have you forgotten that striking word from Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”? Well may we say, with the writer of this proverb, “He theft trusteth in his own heart is a fool,” for he is trusting a deceiver; nay, he is trusting the arch-deceiver, the very chief among the deceivers. Are you going to trust in this heart of yours? Your feelings, your capabilities, your faculties--everything that you like to include in this comprehensive word, are all affected, more or less, by the fall, and yet you are prepared to trust in this rotten reed, this broken staff. When I hear some excuse themselves or their fellows by saying, “Oh, well you know, but they are good at heart,” I feel like saying, “Wherever else they are good, they are not good there, for God Himself declares, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one.’” So, then, we have got God’s verdict concerning the human heart, and it is so emphatic, and so unflattering, that we say with the author of the proverb, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”

II. Secondly, experience warns us in the same direction. We can see for ourselves, if we open our eyes, that those who trust their own hearts are fools. Should we not learn lessons from the falls and follies of others? Let me ask you who have been vigilant, Have you noticed the result of self-confidence in others? Whether it be in business matters, or social affairs, or political questions, or spiritual concerns, to what has unbounded self-confidence led men? They may have run well for awhile. It proved to be only a nine-day’s wonder. It was as the crackling of thorns under a pot: there was great flare and flame, but it ended in smoke and ashes. I have met with instances, not a few, in which men have thus overrun themselves, and become filled with their own ways. It seems to me as if a Nemesis followed them. God virtually says to them, “Well, you believe in yourself; I will leave you to yourself; you trust your own heart, you can do without Me; you ask for independence--you shall have it.” These men have not succeeded--they have come to grief; their supposed righteousness and self-merit did not provide them with shelter in the day of storm; it was a refuge of lies. Are you going to follow their example? Are you likely to succeed where they have failed? Such matters are influenced by certain inexorable laws. A Nemesis pursues those who proudly trust their native strength. Besides, you have had some experience of your own, have you not? Is there anybody here who has not had a try at trusting his own heart?

III. I must point out to you that self-trust is quite unnecessary. I can conceive that, if we were shut up to trusting our own hearts, we might be excused for doing it. God knows we must trust somebody or something! Is there not in us all the clinging tendency, a desire to get hold of somebody or something, a craving for sympathy? If there were no outside helper, stronger than ourselves, what else could we rely on but our experiences and our feelings? But there is something else infinitely better to trust to. We have no excuse for such folly as this; we are not shut up to self-confidence; there is an alternative. If I saw one on the shore launching a leaky boat upon a troubled sea, I should say to him, “Fool that thou art, to go to sea in such a sieve as that!” “Well, but,” says he, “I must go to sea, necessity is laid upon me--and there is no boat but this.” In that case I could only pity him: if he must embark, what can the poor fellow do but take his chance in the leaky cockleshell? Ah, but this is not our case at all. You must go to sea, and it is stormy, too, but you need not embark in this leaky craft of your own heart. God’s own lifeboat stands alongside you; nay, it is already launched. You have but to leap into it; it will outride the roughest sea, and weather every storm. I do not know how it is that some people will not trust God till they are obliged to. You who have not yet got rid of sin and of its condemnation, why not trust Jehovah? Why not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved? I know you are trusting to your own heart. You say to yourself, “I do not think it is so bad after all. Sometimes it is really first-rate.” Another says, “Well, my heart is not up to the mark, I know, but it is better than it was! “Well, really, friend, I am glad to hear that; but when it is at its best it is, by no means, reliable. I pray you do not say, “I think it will come all right at last.” It is folly thus to talk. Look away to Jesus; trust not your own heart, but in the living God. And you, who have been brought out of darkness into His marvellous light, surely you are not going to play the fool by trusting your own heart. You, you of all men, ought to know better. You are going back to where you were at first, to self-righteousness, and self-trust! Well, I leave this question with you; are you able, despite all the experience you have had, to steer your craft across life’s trackless sea, and how can you hope to outride the breakers of judgment that break upon the further shore? (Thomas Spurgeon.)

Folly of self-confidence

I. The evil the text refers to. The heart here signifies the whole soul. Trusting in it means to rest on its sufficiency; to depend upon it in the various circumstances in which we may be placed. It includes--

1. A reliance upon our own wisdom in the concerns of life.

2. To adopt our own schemes of religion. By affirming the sufficiency of nature and reason. By admitting into his creed nothing but what his imperfect mind can understand. By placing all his hopes on excited feelings and warm emotions. By adding to, or diminishing from, Christ’s holy doctrines, ordinances, or commands.

3. To confide in the moral goodness of our own hearts. The Christian also trusts in his own heart when--

4. He relies upon his own skill or power in temptation and trouble.

II. The declaration made concerning this evil. “Is a fool.” This is obvious--

1. If we appeal to reason.

2. To the heart itself.

3. To examples.

4. To our own experience. (J. Burns, D.D.)

Self-sufficiency and godly confidence

I. Self-sufficiency. Seen as pride, and as self-trust. Two things indicated. It is mischievous. It is foolish.

II. Godly confidence. Trust in God implies a knowledge of Him, an appreciation of His transcendent excellences, and a consciousness of His willingness and ability to sustain us. This trust leads to prosperity. (Homilist.)

The folly of self-trust

1. This maxim is justified by the description which Jeremiah gives: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” For if it be indeed such as it is there represented, assuredly the heart cannot be trustworthy. And that the prophet’s description is but too correct must appear abundantly evident to all who have ever sincerely and seriously engaged in the difficult task of self-examination. The very difficulty of the task proves how full the heart which is the subject of it must be of treachery and of secret vice.

2. This maxim is also abundantly justified and confirmed by universal experience, and may be illustrated experimentally.

I. One striking proof we have in our proneness to relapse into sins of which we fancied, perhaps, that we had long ago fairly repented. He makes at once his prompt yet firm choice between God and the world. But soon his evil heart of unbelief tempts him again to depart from the living God.

II. Another practical and experimental proof of the wise man’s assertion we have in the various turns of the believer’s struggle with indwelling sin.

III. We pass from the Christian’s continual struggle with the sin that dwelleth in him to the resolute stand which he is called upon to make against the evil that is in the world. Confessing that our corrupt inclinations still long for certain forbidden indulgences, we yet heedlessly loiter still within sight and within reach of the glittering prize, though we feel our longing becoming daily more intense, and our power to resist it daily giving way.

IV. One other instance of this folly we may mention: our proneness to rely on the amount of our attainments, the sufficiency and the stability of our own conscious and confirmed integrity. We easily forget the imperfection which adheres to our best services and our best qualities, and please ourselves with the idea that some one favourite Christian virtue, at least, is now strong enough for any emergency. And from the very instant in which such an idea begins to prevail between us, that particular virtue may be pronounced the feeblest and most precarious of all that we have. A slight change of circumstances--some very trifling accident, unforeseen and unexpected--a new temptation suddenly assailing us--may lay the proud structure in the dust, and teach us how vain it is to trust in any degree of excellence, in any height of Christian perfection. (R. S. Candlish, D.D.)

Self-deceit

Whosoever trusts his own heart as his light, adviser, and guide, in the complex ways and actings of life, is a fool. Half the wisdom of the wise is in the choice of their advisers. Wise men discern wisdom in others, and call them to council; the wisest man is he who least trusts himself alone. He knows the difficulties of life and its intricacies, and gathers all the lights he can and casts them upon his own case. He must in the end act on his own responsibility; but he seeks all counsellors, the experienced and impartial, sometimes the opposed and unfriendly, that he may be aware on all sides; for “in the multitude of counsellors is safety.” But it may be asked, Is not the heart God’s creation and God’s gift? Did He not plant eyes in it, and give to it light and discernment to guide our ways? Is it not our truest personal guide, given to each one of us by God Himself? Why must a man who trusts his own heart be a fool?

1. Because our hearts--that is, we ourselves--are ignorant of ourselves. If we knew ourselves, we should not trust ourselves; we do so because we do not know what we are. We are by nature, and still more by personal act, sinners. And sin blinds the heart: so that the more sinful the less it knows its sinfulness; for like death, which is most evidently perceived by the living, not at all by the dead, and by the dying only in the measure in which their living consciousness is still retained, so it is with sin dwelling in us. Where is the worldly man who in matters of honour and dishonour, right and wrong, sin and duty, wisdom and folly, religion and faith, death and judgment, heaven and hell, does not with confident assurance trust his own heart? But in the sight of God such a man is a “fool.”

2. Not only is the heart ignorant of itself, but it deceives itself. Of course these cannot be altogether separated. Every one who is ignorant is, in one sense, a self-deceiver; and yet it may not be with any laboured illusion. Ignorance is absence of light; self-deceivers have light, and visions in that light; but those visions are illusions. Ignorance is the danger of unawakened minds; self-deceit of the awakened.

2. Another reason why to trust our own hearts is a note of folly is because they flatter us. How long have we gone on persuading ourselves that we are meek, poor in spirit, makers of peace, merciful, patient, and the like, because we assent in desire and will to the Beatitudes, and would fain share in their benedictions! How long have we persuaded ourselves that we pray both often and enough, earnestly, and with devotion; that we love God above all, and above all desire so to love Him; that our life is, on the whole, not unlike the great Example of humility; and that we know our own hearts better than any one can tell us! And yet what does this last persuasion show? Why are we so sensitive under a reproof? Why do we accuse ourselves freely of all faults but the one imputed? Why are we never guilty in the point suspected? Why do we wholly guide ourselves, and feel so great security in our own direction? but because we trust our own hearts. Out of this proceeds our visions of devotion, our imaginations of sanctity. It is a forge never cold, always at work, forming and fashioning devices which please us by their fair and shapely forms, and flatter us because they are a homage to ourselves.

Lessons:

1. The greatest security against deceiving ourselves by trusting our own hearts is a careful information of conscience. But this plainly runs beyond the period of our responsibility into the account of those to whom our childhood was subject. Our chief difficulty is in the attempt to analyse the confused and hardened mass of self, neglected for twenty, thirty, half a hundred years; to unravel a world of knots and entanglements; to find the beginning of the clue. Self-examination begun late in life must remand the chief part of its discoveries to the day of judgment.

2. The other security is the only one which remains to those who have never enjoyed the first; and that is to take the judgment of some other persons instead of trusting in themselves. It will be, no doubt, painful and distressing; it will bring shame and burning of face. But is not the stake worth the cost? (Archdeacon Manning.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 28:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/proverbs-28.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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