Proverbs 17:2. A son that causeth shame, rather, a degenerate son. (Delitzsch and Zöckler).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:2
THE FOOLISH SON AND THE WISE SERVANT
I. High social position is not necessarily the outcome of mental ability or moral worth. Many a man is born heir to a great estate, or even to a throne, who brings shame upon the name he bears and the place he occupies. He may be inferior in intellectual power to many of the dependents upon the house, or he may be worse in his character than they are. Or if he is not so degraded in character, or of such limited ability as to be surpassed by the majority, there may be one who serves him whose aim in life is far more lofty than his own, and who has far greater capabilities than he has.
II. A wise man will acquire influence, whatever position he fills. A servant who understands his duties, and conscientiously fulfils them, will win respect and confidence; and these will give him influence in his master’s house, and over all with whom his business brings him into contact. There are many instances, both in the history of private families and in the history of courts, in which the judicious conduct of a subordinate person has averted evils which would otherwise have followed the crimes of a son of the house, and the father of such a son can but acknowledge such services, and reward them, if he is possessed of any gratitude. But whether he does so or not, it is an ordination of God’s providence, which we see in constant operation around us, that a wise man is a fool’s master. It is a law of nature that a stronger physical body shall govern the weaker, if no other power interferes, and it is a law in the universe of mind that the stronger mind shall rule the weak, and make it serve his purpose in some way. This is the secret of many of the social changes which are always going on, in which some who were born to affluence come down to penury, and those who were born in obscurity take their places.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Eliezer will show the custom that suggests the type. He was a wise servant. Abraham thought he would have to be his heir (Genesis 15:2-3). All commentators put “son” in apposition with him who causes shame; i.e., make them the same person. But to be the same person they should be in the same form grammatically, and “son” is in the construct. The causer of shame, therefore, is the father. And this is more consistent, for a wise father could uphold a son, or could give the inheritance to other brethren. In the worldly sense there could be no difficulty. In the spiritual what noted instances!—in the Israelites, who, unlike Abraham, failed to command their households (Genesis 18:19), and who gave place to their bought servants, the hated Gentiles!—in Satan, who has given place to man (Psalms 8:2)!—in modern men who have professed the faith, but have debauched their children till they see them hardening under their very eyes, and some far-off waif gets before them into the everlasting kingdom. Better, says the last proverb, the utmost poverty, with peace and love; better, says this proverb, the poorest hold upon the Church, if there be the humbler hold upon the service of the Most High.—Miller.
If wisdom make us free, then are we free indeed: as on the other side, he is altogether a servant that dealeth unwisely. But he that is wisdom’s freeman is not only a freeman but a master, not only a master but a son, not only a son but an heir, an heir among the brethren. So highly doth wisdom exalt. But thus it is with the Father of the world, it is not so with worldly fathers. Their foolish love doth honour their son, though his foolish life doth fill them with shame: their proud carriage despiteth their servant, though his wise carriage exalteth their estate. The son shall have all though he deserve nothing, the servant shall not have his wages though they be due unto him. But the wisdom of God bestoweth His love, the justice of God divideth His inheritance in another manner. Oftentimes, even in this life, he putteth the servant in the son’s place … Be wise, then, though thou be a servant, and thou shalt be His son who is the Father of wisdom. Be not wicked, though the son of rich parents, and, it may be, heir to a great estate, for He, the Lord of all, can quickly make thee a poor servant for thy sins, who has made thyself a servant to thy sins.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:3
THE TRIER OF HEARTS
We have here an analogy implied between men’s hearts and gold and silver.
I. Both have an intrinsic worth. Gold and silver have not only an artificial value, but they have qualities in themselves which render them of especial worth. So the heart of man—that spiritual and immortal part of him which constitutes him a man—is of priceless worth because of its infinite capacities of good and evil, its infinite capabilities of enjoyment and of suffering.
II. Both must be separated from worthless alloy if they are to attain their real value. Gold and silver are comparatively worthless until they are separated from every other mineral; they must be unalloyed with baser metal, or nearly so, before their intrinsic excellences and capabilities become apparent and they can be put to the uses for which they are so peculiarly fitted. So the human soul cannot rise to the high destiny to which it is appointed until there is a separation made between it and sinful habits, motives, and desires.
III. Both human souls and precious metals are subjected to a testing process. The gold and the silver ores are thrown into the crucible and placed over the fire, in order that it may be made manifest how much there is of real worth in them, and the human soul is subjected to trials of various kinds by the Great Searcher of hearts, in order that both the good and the evil that is therein may be seen, and the one separated from the other. The proverb seems rather to refer to the testing, than to the purifying process.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Trying is more than simply discerning. The Lord does not need to try in order to make any discovery for Himself. He “knoweth what is in man.” But He “tries,” in order to bring to light what may lie concealed from men, and especially from the individual himself. And this He does in order to the person’s conviction and benefit; and that He may be vindicated in His final judgments He “tries,” in different respects, both the wicked and the righteous. By the dispensations of His providence He often elicits the latent evils that are in the hearts of the ungodly and the worldly. He brings out their hidden abominations. He manifests the deceitfulness, the hypocrisy, the “desperate wickedness” of their “inward parts,” their rebellions and unsubdued dispositions. He exposed the simulation of dissemblers, and of those whose religion only seems to thrive when their profession of it brings no suffering, and demands no sacrifice.… In the same manner, too, does God try and bring out to view the inward graces and virtues of His children. And while disclosing He refines and purifies them, He detects and removes the alloy—the dross and tin of self and the world, separating the “vile” from the “precious,” and so rendering the precious the more excellent.—Wardlaw.
Silver is refined by getting the silver out from among the dross. Christians are refined by putting the silver in among the dross, and refining the dross away. Men in a natural state are not an ore of silver, but are dross, and they are nothing else. He who sits to purify them (Malachi 3:3) does not disengage the gold, but supplies it as He goes along. In other respects the emblem is complete.
(1) The “furnace” takes out the dross. So does “Jehovah.”
(2) The “furnace” burns out the dross. So does “Jehovah,” with biting flames.
(3) The “furnace” is a gradual worker. So is God.—Miller.
Man trieth many things, and many things in man are tried by man. The silver of a man’s word is tried by a wise care: the gold of a man’s deeds is tried by the fruit of them: the silver of a man’s wit is tried by dangers and distresses, the gold of a man’s understanding is tried by weighty and important business; the gold of a man’s strength is tried by hard and burdensome labour; the gold of his knowledge by hard and difficult questions; the silver of a man’s diligence is tried by the haste of affairs; the gold of a man’s faithfulness by trust reposed in him: the silver of a man’s estate is tried by a careful account, the gold of his virtues by troubles and temptations. Thus there is a fining-pot for the silver, and a furnace for the gold: and the heart of man trieth other things, but the trier of the heart is the Lord alone. The fine silver, the pure gold that lie in that, can be proved by nothing but by His touch. Whoever else taketh upon him to search the secrets of the heart, layeth open his own sin and folly. The heart itself cannot try itself; God is the goldsmith for it. Or else the original will bear well this sense, that God, by troubles, trieth the heart of man. Wherefore Tertullian saith, When we are burned in the heat of persecution then are we tried in the hold-fast of our faith.… And surely if Seneca could say, “I gave thanks unto fortune because she would try how much I esteemed honesty, so great a thing ought not to stand me in a little,” then certainly the servants of God ought to thank God when He, by troubles, trieth how well they love Him.—Jermin.
Proverbs 17:4. A liar. literally, a lie, falsehood.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:4
THE EVIL SPEAKER AND THE LISTENER
I. That which men give heed to reveals their character. If a man will listen to another whom he knows to be false—if he permits him to be continually pouring into his ear that which he knows to be untrue—he is a liar himself. He could not make himself a receiver of lies if he were not of a kindred spirit with the liar. We classify animals according to the food which they eat, and we can classify men when we know upon what mental and moral food they love to feed. He who gives heed to falsehood and lying lips is a false man himself.
II. Delight in wicked speech leads to wicked actions. Those who use ungodly language never stop there. There is but a step between wicked words and wicked deeds. Neither do those who begin by giving heed to men whose speech is prompted by him who is the father of lies (John 8:44) stop with the mere listening. The listening, as we have seen, implies a certain degree of sympathy with the listener; this sympathy leads to imitation, and he who gives heed to false lips not only becomes himself a man of wicked speech but a “wicked doer.”
III. The liar and he who listens to him divide the responsibility of the sin between them. These two characters help to increase each other’s guilt by strengthening each other in their ungodliness. The liar is encouraged to go on in his lying by those who give heed to his lies; if there were none willing to listen to him he would soon cease to sin in this direction. So that the receiver of falsehood will have to share the punishment of him who propagates it. Then the liar increases the wickedness of the wicked doer by his false words, which help to make his heart yet more ungodly and his doings yet more wicked. Thus ungodly men exert a reciprocal influence upon each other for evil.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Wicked men have a great treasure of evil in their hearts, and yet have not enough to satisfy their own corrupt dispositions. They are like covetous men, in whom their large possessions only increase their lust of having, and therefore they carry on a trade with other wicked men, who are able to add to their store of iniquity, by flattering and counselling them in sin.—Lawson.
“A liar” is of essential use to the evil-doer. He can suborn him. He can get him to bear witness in his favour—to perjure himself to get him off, when in danger of being convicted. Such characters, too, it may be noticed, are fond of the lies of false teachers. They keep their ear greedily open to these. They are soothed, and flattered, and encouraged by them in their evil courses. They cannot but like the doctrine that allays their fears; that palliates sin; that makes light of future punishment; that tells them of a God all mercy; that assures them of ultimate universal salvation. Thus it was of old; and thus it is still (Isaiah 30:9-11). Wardlaw.
A man most mischievous himself yields most mischievously to the mischief of other sinners. “A lie” is the most weakly credulous. This is often noticed among the earthly. The biter is often most bitten, the tyrant most tortured. The cunning is often most caught, and what is singularly the fact, the sceptic is often the most believing. It is not a complete proverb, though, for earth, because it is not universal. It is spiritually, as with all these other texts, that the truth has no exception. The greatest harm-doer is Satan, and so the greatest harm is done to Satan. He is the father of lies, and has been the most lied to. He was more deceived in Eden than his victim, and on Calvary than the men who crucified our Lord. And all his followers take from the world equal mischief with that which they inflict upon it.—Miller.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:5
A DOUBLE REVELATION
I. Revealing crime. He who mocketh the poor reveals his own character. If we find one brother of a family mocking another brother, we feel that his conduct is a revelation of the state of his heart. We feel that such a man must be destitute of all right feeling—that he has no regard for their common parent—none of that tender feeling which ought to bind members of the same family. God has made of one blood all nations of the earth, and he who mocks the poor mocks one of the same great human family as himself, and thus shows that he lacks all true humanity and all right feeling towards the common Father of both. The displeasure with which God regards such a man reveals the Divine character. If the ruler of a country identifies himself with the most defenceless and friendless of his subjects—if he exacts the severest penalties for any wrong done to them—if, in short, he reckons an offence against them as committed against himself—he reveals that he is a man of true benevolence. The displeasure with which God regards not only them who oppress the poor, but also those who mock them—and a man does this when he gives empty words but no sympathy and help—reveals the tender compassion of His nature. On this subject see also Homiletics on chap. 14, page 31.
II. An aggravated crime. “He who is glad at calamities,” etc. It is a sin both against God and human nature to mock the poor—to treat men with indifference and contempt because they are in a lowly station—because they are compelled to labour much and labour hard for the supply of their daily wants; he who is guilty of such conduct reveals a nature that is entirely opposed to the nature of God, and lays himself open to retribution. But when a man is not only indifferent to the miseries of others, but can actually find in them an occasion of gladness, he is as near to Satan in character and disposition as a man out of hell can be. He is not only ungodlike, but he is devilish. It is a prominent characteristic of the evil one that he finds a fiendish delight in the calamities of men, and a man cannot give a more convincing proof that he is of his “father the devil” (John 8:44) than by imitating him in this particular crime.
III. A heavy retribution. We can form some estimate of the weight of punishment which must fall upon this last offender, by remembering how God regards the first. If He convicts him who mocks the poor of casting reproach upon his Maker, how much more will he visit Him who “is glad at calamities.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It is a sad thing when one “potsherd of the earth,” because it happens to have got from the hand of the potter a little gilding and superficial decoration, mocks at another “potsherd of the earth” which chances to be somewhat more homely in its outward appearance, or, perhaps, formed of a little coarser material than the other; both the work of the same hands, and both alike frail, brittle, and perishable.—Wardlaw.
Why should I, for a little difference in this one particular of worldly wealth, despise my poor brother? When so many and great things unite us, shall wealth disunite us? One sun shines on us both; one blood bought us both; one heaven will receive us both, only he hath not so much of earth as I, and possibly much more of heaven.—Bishop Reynolds.
To pour contempt upon the current coin with the king’s image on it, is treason against the sovereign. No less contempt is it of the Sacred Majesty, to despise the poor, who have, no less than the rich, the king’s image upon them (Genesis 9:6). This view marks the contempt of the poor as a sin of the deepest dye.—Bridges.
If God should appear in human shape, would we dare to insult him? Would not the fear of a just and dreadful vengeance deter us? And to mock the poor, amounts to the very same thing. God did actually appear in our nature, and He was then poor for our sakes; and those that despise the poor, despise them for a reason that reflects upon our Saviour Himself when He dwelt among us.—Lawson.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:6
FATHERS AND CHILDREN
Two things are implied in this proberb:—First, that the fathers are good men. An aged man who is not a godly man cannot in any sense reflect any glory upon his descendants. Secondly, that the children are also godly and true, otherwise they are anything but a crown to their parents. The Wise Man is here speaking of those who are in both relations what God intended them to be. When such is the case—
I. The children bring honour to their parents. They testify that the parents have trained them in the way that they should go—that they have given them a good example as well as good advice, and every child is then like a separate mirror, reflecting the character of the godly parent by whose influence he has become what he now is. And the greater number of these mirrors there are, the more brilliant is the crown of honour which is worn by the godly ancestor whose virtues are thus reproduced in his children and in his children’s children, even long after he has left the world. Every tribute of respect that is paid to the children is another jewel placed in the crown of the godly ancestor.
II. The parents are the glory of their children. Men glory in being descended from ancestors who have been great warriors or who have left them a vast inheritance of material wealth, but an inheritance of goodness reflects as much more glory upon those who are its heirs as the glory of heaven exceeds that of earth. Goodness holds a very old patent of nobility, and when children can boast of a long line of God-fearing ancestors, they can boast of a dignity which is as old as God. To be the descendants of those who are now before the throne of God is a glory before which all earthly glory fades away.
Proverbs 17:7. Excellent speech, literally “a lip of excess or prominence, an assuming, imperious style of speech” (Zöckler). A prince, rather, a noble, a man of lofty disposition.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:7
A TWOFOLD INCONGRUITY
I. Truth from the mouth of a godless man. This is not an unknown case. A man of immoral practices may inculcate precepts of purity—a dishonest man may, for the purpose of cloaking his own character, be loud in his praises of integrity and uprightness. But the speech of such a man will fall powerless on his hearers, even if they do not know thoroughly the character of the speaker. There will be a lack of the true ring of sincerity about his words—being words only, and not convictions, they will be “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Suppose that a barrister, who was very ignorant of law and possessed of very limited mental capacities, having undertaken the defence of an important case, were to apply to one of his most learned and eloquent legal brethren to write his speech for him. When he got up to deliver that which was not the production of his own mind—that which he was not able thoroughly to appreciate himself—would not the listeners be struck with a sense of incongruity, would they not feel that, however good the arguments, however vivid the illustrations, however powerful the appeals, there was something lacking—that the speaker was a stripling wearing the armour of a giant? Something of this same feeling is experienced when an immoral man gives utterance to moral sentiments—he does not know the meaning of his own words, he lacks the experience necessary to give weight to what he says. He speaks what is in itself true, but he is not a true man himself, and consequently the utterance is like a “jewel of gold in a swine’s snout.”
II. Untruth from the mouth of a man of exalted station. A prince (i.e., one who holds a high place among his fellow-men) is especially bound to be a man of truth and honour. It is here implied that he is to be an embodiment of truthfulness—that whether he owes his position to wealth, to birth, or to intellectual gifts—whatever else he lacks, he ought to be a truthful man; his words ought to be excellent, and they ought to be the reflection of excellence of character.
III. The second incongruity is more mischievous than the first. “Excellent speech becometh not a fool, much less do lying lips a prince.” If a moral fool is a man who holds no position in the world, what he says will not be of so much consequence, because his influence upon others is little. He will injure himself, and those immediately connected with him, but the harm done will not be so widely spread as if he were one of the great of the land. The first man, if he puts on a garb of morality, and adopts language which does not represent his true self, is a liar, but his lying does not injure others so much as it does himself. But a “lying prince” is an instrument of wide-spread evil. To lie in a cottage is a sin against God and man, but to lie in a palace is a greater sin, because the inmate of a palace holds in his hand an immense power for good and for evil. What he says and does is felt more or less indirectly throughout his dominion, and as his responsibility is so great, the guilt of using it wrongly is great also.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
God likes not fair words from a foul mouth. Christ silenced the devil when he confessed Him to be the Son of the Most High God. The leper’s lips should be covered, according to the law.—Trapp.
Lying lips are no less unbecoming in the mouth of a prince, who ought to honour the dignity of his station by the dignity of his manners. A prince of our own is said to have frequently used this proverbial saying, “He that knows not how to dissemble knows not how to reign.” You may judge from the text before us whether he deserved to be called the Solomon of his age. It was certainly a nobler saying of one of the kings of France,—that if truth were banished from all the rest of the world it ought to be found in the breasts of princes. A man’s dignity obliges him to a behaviour worthy of it, and of him whose favour has conferred it. All Christians are advanced to spiritual honours of the most exalted kind. They are the children of God, and heirs of the eternal kingdom, and ought to resemble their heavenly Father, who is the God of truth. When a young prince desired a certain philosopher to give him a directory for his conduct, all his instructions were comprised in one sentence, “Remember that thou art a king’s son.” Let Christians remember who they are, and how they came to be what they are, and act in character.—Lawson.
Force not thyself above, degrade not thyself below thy condition.—Wohlfarth.
Proverbs 17:8. A gift. Some expositors understand this in the sense of a bribe. Delitzsch translates the whole verse—“The gift of bribery appears a jewel to its receiver, whithersoever he turneth himself he acteth prudently,” i.e., “it determines and impels him to apply all his understanding, in order that he may reach the goal for which it shall be his reward.” Zöckler understands it to refer to the gift of seasonable liberality which secures for its giver supporters and friends.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:8
THE POWER OF GIFTS
I. All men value gifts. Whether they be gifts which are of intrinsic value from their beauty or their rarity or whether they are of little worth in themselves, but are the expressions of the love and gratitude of those who offer them, there is a certain pleasure in receiving them. A free-will offering is more acceptable to a right-minded man than that which is bestowed upon him as a matter of necessity. The fact that it is a gift invests it with a value beyond that which would otherwise be attached to it—makes it as a “precious stone” to the receiver. The good-will that prompts the gift turns a pebble into a diamond.
II. All the blessing of a gift does not rest with the receiver.—As a precious stone reflects rays of light in whichever way it is held, so generous-hearted liberality blesses him who gives as well as him who takes. The giver has the gratitude and love of the recipient and experiences the truth of the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). (For the opposite meanings which different commentators attach to the word gift, see Critical Notes.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1. Those that have money in their hand think they can do anything with it. Rich men, whithersoever they turn this sparkling diamond, expect it should dazzle the eyes of all, and make them do just what they would have them do in hopes of it.
2. Those who have money in their eye will do anything for it. It has great influence upon them, and they will be sure to go the way it leads them.—Henry.
Viewed as referring to the person who confers the gift, or has it to bestow,—we may notice first, that the reference may be to the man who is known to have something to bestow which all covet. In this case, every one desires his favour, strives to oblige him, tries every means of insinuation into his good graces. A man who has any skill in manœuvering may, in this way, render what he has to confer a capital instrument for pushing forward his own prosperity; Keeping all in expectation,—cherishing hope,—making his desired and coveted gift look first one way, then another, then a third; perhaps partially bestowing, and still reserving enough to hold expectants hanging on, so as to have them available for his own ends. Secondly:—On the part of those who have gifts to bestow, uses may be made of them that are honourable and prudent,—quite consistent, not with mere self-interest, but with right principle. They may be employed to avert threatened evil, and for the more sure attainment of desired good. Such was Jacob’s gift to his brother Esau; when, in setting it apart, he said, “I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward will I see his face.” Such was the gift of the same patriarch, at a later period, to “the man the lord of the country,” when he sent his sons the second time to Joseph in Egypt.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 17:9. Repeateth a matter. Most expositors understand this repetition to refer to a revival of a past wrong, but Miller translates “He who falls back into an act,” i.e., transgresses again after forgiveness.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:9
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND HOW TO SEPARATE THEM
We have before noticed various ways in which love covers sin or transgression. (See Homiletics of chapter Proverbs 15:12, page 157.) This proverb sets forth—
I. That he who thus covers sin is a great benefactor of the human race. The great need of a fallen world is such a state of heart as will promote love among men. One of Christ’s last commands to his disciples was “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 16:12). And there is no more effectual way of promoting love than by freely forgiving an offence and at the same time endeavouring to turn the transgressor from the error of his way. A stream in winter may, by reason of the biting cold, be congealed into a rock-like solid mass, but when the summer sun shines upon it, it cannot long resist the influence, but melts and begins again to ripple and sparkle under its beams. So a sense of guilt and shame hardens the human heart, but a consciousness that the sin has been freely forgiven and forgotten melts it into contrition and love if it is not utterly dead to moral influences. This is the great power which binds sin-forgiven men and women to God—having been forgiven much they love much (Luke 7:47-50).
II. A man of opposite character is a curse to his race. Friendship is the greatest boon of human existence, and he whose words or deeds tend to break any such tie does his fellow-men a great wrong. There is no more effectual way of doing it than by a constant repetition of the faults of others, either by reminding the offender himself of his shortcomings or by speaking of them to a third person. Solomon may refer to either of these habits—both are bad, and show a disposition entirely opposed to that of Him who, when he forgave His ancient people, promised that He would “remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Seeketh love! A beautiful expression, much to be kept in mind! It shows a delight in the atmosphere of love—man’s highest elevation in communion with his God (1 John 4:16). It implies not the mere exercise of love, where it is presented, but the searching and making opportunity for it. But how seldom do we rise to the high standard of this primary grace, exalted as it is pre-eminently above “the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13.); and illustrated and enforced by no less than the Divine example! (Ephesians 5:1-2.) Yet too often it sits at the door of our lips, instead of finding a home in our hearts; forgetting that the exhortation is not, that we should talk of love, but that we should “walk in it;” not stepping over it, crossing it, walking by the side, but “in it,” as our highway and course. One step of our feet is better than a hundred words of the tongue.—Bridges.
All unnecessary repetition even of real faults comes under the category of scandal, and is sinful and mischievous. You may fancy you are within the limit of blameworthiness, when you are telling no more than what is true: but, if you are telling even truth needlessly, for no good and laudable end, you are chargeable with the offence.—Wardlaw.
Alas! how many things are there to be suffered, how many things to be forgotten, bow many things, though seen, to be as it were unseen, that love may be preferred. He that covereth transgression warmeth affection, and he that seeketh the love of man shall be sure to find the love of God. The way to seek and find other things is by uncovering that which is hid; but the way to seek and find love is by covering the offence.—Jermin.
If one has been our enemy it has been for some trespass. The best way to abate the enmity is to cover up and smother over, and thus erase from memory our act against him. He that does this “seeks love.” “He who falls back into the wrong,” i.e., iterates or doubles over his offence, drives away everything. (See Critical Notes.) … Spiritually, a man is not to complain of the alienation of his Maker, if he wilfully retain his sin. If God has given us a special way for covering sin, and we postpone it, and go tumbling back into our acts, the strife is ours.—Miller.
There are two ways of making peace and reconciling differences; the one begins with amnesty, the other with a recital of injuries, combined with apologies and excuses. Now I remember that it was the opinion of a very wise man, and a great politician, that “he who negotiates a peace without recapitulating the grounds of difference rather deludes the minds of the parties, by representing the sweetness of concord, than reconciles them by equitable adjustment.” But Solomon, a wiser man than he, is of a contrary opinion, approving of amnesty, and forbidding a recapitulation of the past. For in it are these disadvantages: it is as the chafing of a sore; it creates the risk of a new quarrel (for the parties will never agree as to the proportions of injuries on either side); and, lastly, it brings it to a matter of apologies: whereas either party would rather be thought to have forgiven an injury than to have accepted an excuse.—Lord Bacon.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:10
CORRECTION MUST BE ADAPTED TO THE CHARACTER OF THE OFFENDER
I. Some men can be influenced by moral means. A man whose moral nature is developed can be brought to a sense of error by an appeal to his own sense of right and wrong. Although he has fallen into sin he does not love it, and the rebuke from without finds an echo in the monitor within his own breast. His susceptibility to reproof arises—
1. From a deep sense of hit obligations to God. He knows what God has done to put away sin and its effects from the universe, and gratitude to Him opens his ear and his heart to reproof.
2. From a sense of his own true interest. A man would be counted a fool if he were to be angry with the physician who desired to free him from the dominion of a bodily disease, and a morally wise man is too keenly alive to the worth of his own soul not to listen to a wise reproof.
II. But there are men who can only be aroused to a sense of wrong-doing by physical suffering. Such men, by a long course of crime or by a constant resistance of moral influences, have sunk almost to the level of the brute. They are like the horse and mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held with bit and bridle (Psalms 32:9). Nothing can awaken their sleeping consciences but severe and startling judgments or bodily chastisement, and even these “stripes” may fail to bring them to a right state of mind. Let men, then, beware, lest being often reproved and hardening themselves against it (ch. Proverbs 29:1), they become so callous to the words of God and good men, or to the visitations of Providence, as to be “past feeling.” (Ephesians 4:19).
It was a maxim of Bishop Griswold—“when censured or accused, to correct—not to justify my error.” A certain minister, with more zeal than discretion, once became impressed with the thought that the bishop was a mere formalist in religion, and that it was his duty to go and warn him of his danger. Accordingly he called upon the bishop, very solemnly made known his errand, and forthwith entered upon his reproof. The bishop listened in silence till his visitor had closed a severely denunciatory exhortation, and then in substance replied as follows:—“My dear friend, I do not wonder that they who witness the inconsistency of my conduct, and see how poorly I adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour, should think I have no religion. I often fear for myself that such is the case, and feel very grateful to you for giving me the warning.” The reply was made with such evidently unaffected humility, and with such deep sincerity, that if an audible voice from heaven had attested the genuineness of his Christian character it could not more effectually have silenced his kindly intending but mis-judging censor, or more completely disabused him of his false impressions.—Episcopal Record.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Fools have sometimes received correction and made a good use of it, but they were fools no longer, for the rod and reproof gave them wisdom; but it is a sign that folly is deeply ingrained when an hundred rods leave men as great fools as they found them.—Lawson.
A look from Christ brake Peter’s heart and dissolved it into tears.… But Jeroboam’s withered hand works nothing upon his heart.—Trapp.
The folly of simplicity is a softness of nature; the folly of sin is a hardness of heart; the folly of conceit is a stiffness of will, and little doth a rod enter into any of them. For though the first be soft, it is hard to work upon it, although it be with hard and many strokes of the stick. The woolliness of the sheep’s skin keeps back the force of the beating rod … The rock in the wilderness first denied water to the Israelites, as, withstanding nature’s force and the first stroke of Moses, it resisted as opposing the infidelity of sin, to the second stroke it yielded as submitting to God’s power. But it is not the power of God’s rod that enters into a fool.—Jermin.
A needle pierces deeper into flesh than a sword into stone.—Bridges.
David is softened with Thou art the man; but Pharaoh remains hardened under all the plagues of Egypt.—Henry.
Even amongst the children of God themselves there are great diversities of temper; some requiring harder dealing than others to bring them down, and to reclaim them from their follies, as is the case often with children in the same family. A word, or a look, will go with melting and heartbreaking power to the very soul of one, while the severest correction, and oft-repeated, will fail to bring down the stubborn and fractious spirit of another. O for more of the spirit of Job and less of the spirit of Jonah!—for more of that truly child-like disposition which gives way before every divine admonition, which melts into penitence under the eye of an offended God, and looks up with a child’s submission at the slightest touch of His corrective rod! Wardlaw.
Proverbs 17:11. Many commentators translate the first clause “Rebellion,” or “a rebel” seeketh only after evil, i.e., brings retribution upon himself.
Proverbs 17:12. Miller translates the latter clause “but not a fool his folly.” (See his comment.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— Proverbs 17:11-13
PHASES OF EVIL
I. The main characteristic of a sinner is that he is a rebel against the moral order of the universe. “He seeketh only rebellion.” The planets in their courses describe their orbits in obedience to the law of gravitation, and because they do so the order of the heavens is preserved. God is the sun of the moral universe, and before sin entered it all His creatures kept the path of obedience to His will, held to their allegiance by the love and confidence which they bore to their Lawgiver. But sin snapped the bond, and the word sinner stands for one who has broken away from the moral law of God; every sinner seeketh rebellion.
II. A sinner is a restless being. He seeks rebellion. These words seem to depict the restless character of the ungodly man. When a soul has lost its centre of gravity—when the will of God is not the polestar of life—it drifts about in obedience first to one lawless passion and then another, following in the footsteps of the great leader of rebellion, the first sinner, who, by his own confession, is continually going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it (Job 1:7).
III. A sinner is an injurious man. No man can set himself in antagonism to the law of God, which tends to the happiness of his creatures, without bringing misery upon others, and the more determined his rebellion the more cruel are the effects of his sin upon them. A bear is naturally a cruel beast, but when a bear is robbed of what her instinct leads her to guard most jealously she is an object to be dreaded and avoided. Yet a wicked man is more to be feared, for there are in him capabilities of mischief beyond those possessed by the furious brute. The anger of the beast might be diverted or appeased—even a bear robbed of her whelps would forget her anger if a carcase were thrown in her path upon which she might wreak her vengeance. But the wrath of an angry man is less easily appeased. The mischief which the furious bear can do is more limited. The superior skill of man can soon put a stop to the ravages of a wild beast, but the angry folly of a single fool has often destroyed many lives and broken many hearts.
IV. A sinner is an ungrateful being. Many an ungodly man would deny this charge, but everyone who continues in a state of rebellion against God is continually rewarding evil for good. But the sin of the text doubtless refers to the ingratitude towards a fellow-man. This sin cannot be charged home upon every ungodly man—there are those who, though careless of rendering to God that which is His due, are content with rendering to their fellow-men evil for evil, and would not knowingly render evil for good. But while the heart is in a state of rebellion against its rightful sovereign, every evil tendency is continually growing stronger, and men by degrees descend to depths of evil from which they would once have recoiled with horror.
V. God will, sooner or later, call His rebellious subjects to account. Although men sometimes go on in open rebellion against God for many years, not one shall finally escape. A writ has been issued for the apprehension of each one, although the execution is in some cases deferred. “Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12), and the messenger that summons the ungodly man to the Divine tribunal will be “cruel” because looked at through the medium of a guilty conscience.
VI. The sinner brings evil upon his posterity. It is a truth which is illustrated by the experience of our daily life that no man stands alone in the world—that the sins of the fathers are, in some measure, visited upon the children—that “whoso rewardeth evil for good,” not only brings evil upon himself but upon “his house.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 17:11. God sometimes employs terrible messengers to chastise His own people. When David numbered his subjects, 70,000 of them were destroyed in three days by a visible messenger of severity, under the direction of an invisible minister of providence. If God takes such vengeance of the rebellions of some whom He pardons, what will the end be of them that seek only rebellion!—Lawson.
God hath forces enough at hand to fetch in His rebels.… The stones in the walls of Aphek shall sooner turn executioners than a rebellious Aramite shall escape unrevenged.—Trapp.
Many things there are which an evil man proposeth to his seeking: sometimes pleasures, sometimes profit, sometimes honour, sometimes favour, but in truth it is only rebellion against God that is sought by him. For these things are not to be found in the ways of wickedness, and therefore it is only his deceived imagination that looketh for them there. But rebellion against God is found in all his ways.—Jermin.
There are men that are summoning a cruel messenger to be sent against themselves.… They are “only the rebellious.” A door of mercy! and a ransom fixed for sin! and only one class to fail! and they spontaneously rebels! These are the men that go in search of evil, and this is the meaning of the wise man.—Miller.
Proverbs 17:12. Witness Jacob’s sons putting a whole city to fire and sword for the folly of one man; Saul slaying a large company of innocent priests; Nebuchadnezzar heating the furnace sevenfold; Herod murdering the children in Ramah; “Saul breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”—was not all this the rage of a beast, not the reason of a man? Humbling, indeed, is this picture of man, once “created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).—Bridges.
For the “fool,” what a meeting! when he has been robbed of every earthly chance! and is dead eternally! and the “folly,” that has robbed him, is shut up with him in everlasting misery!—Miller.
See Miller’s rendering of the verse in Critical Notes.
Proverbs 17:13. To render good for evil is Divine, good for good is human, evil for evil is brutish, evil for good is devilish.—Trapp.
The most striking illustration of this sentence, is the history of the Jewish nation. Never was such ingratitude showed to any benefactor, as they showed to the Son of God, and never was the punishment of any people so dreadful, and of so long continuance. That scattered people proclaim to every nation under heaven how dangerous the sin of ingratitude is, especially when God our Saviour is the object of it.—Lawson.
Proverbs 17:14. Meddled with, rather “pours forth.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:14
THE BEGINNING OF STRIFE
I. This moral pestilence is of great antiquity. It began with the angels who “kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6), and from that far-distant period until now the universe has never been free from discord—good and evil have striven against each other, and strife has also reigned between those who are on the side of evil. There was strife between the first two human brothers born into this world, and since the day when Cain slew Abel because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous, this terrible enemy of human happiness has been slaying his victims wherever men were to be found.
II. Strife is a thing of growth. There is a moment when the fire which will presently destroy a town is only a tiny spark which the breath of a child could extinguish,—the leak which at last sinks the vessel and sends a hundred brave men to a watery grave was once no larger than a pin-hole—and the breach in the dam through which a torrent of water rushes, leaving desolation behind it, begins with an opening through which not more than a few drops of water can force their way. So it is with strife. It does not attain to its full dimensions in a moment. The hatred in the heart which is the root of strife may be at first but a passing feeling, but if it is not overcome at its first appearance it grows in strength from day to day. And its outward manifestation in strife may begin with but a few angry words—an apparently trifling disagreement. But those who have indulged in it will presently find themselves in the grip of a giant—overmastered, and carried headlong by passion to crimes of which they once thought it impossible they could ever be guilty.
III. If the miserable effects of strife are to be avoided, it must be attacked in its beginnings. Seeing how disastrous are the effects of the leak in the ship, and how much desolation is caused by the ravages of fire or the bursting forth of pent-up water through its banks, it behoves all who are in any way responsible in these matters to be watchful for the first indications of mischief, and to put a stop to it before it gets beyond their power. And if a man would avoid being a party to a quarrel, he must watch narrowly the first risings of anger in his heart and take care that he never utters the first angry word. If the first remains unspoken, a second can never pass his lips; but if in an unguarded moment the angry feeling finds an outlet in angry speech, the speaker himself cannot tell where and how the mischief will end. It may go from words of strife to deeds of strife, and both will entail more misery upon their author than upon him who is the subject of them. The self-interest of every man ought to prompt him to check the beginnings of strife in himself and in others; it is so great an enemy to our social well-being that we are all as much interested in putting a stop to its ravages as we are in arresting the progress of a pestilential disease. But the children of God are specially called to this work. They are bound to be imitators of their Father in this matter, and He is “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33). All the plans and purposes of God have for their aim “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), and His children ought to emulate His example. And they cannot do otherwise. They have been made partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and the nature of God is eminently peace-loving. If, therefore, a man has been born of God he must delight in social peace and harmony—he must recoil from strife and discord. It is peacemakers who shall be called “the children of God” (Matthew 5:9), and “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Man is a sociable-living creature, and should converse with man in love and tranquillity. Man should be a supporter of man; is he become an over-thrower? O apostasy, not only from religion, but also from humanity! The greatest danger that befalls man comes from where it should least come, from man himself. Lions fight not with lions; serpents spend not their venom on serpents; but man is the main suborner of mischief to his own kind.… God hath hewn us all out of one rock, tempered all our bodies of one clay, and spirited our souls of one breath. Therefore, saith Augustine, since we proceed all out of one stock, let us all be of one mind. Beasts molest not their own kind, and birds of a feather fly lovingly together. Not only the blessed angels of heaven agree in mutual harmony, but even the very devils of hell are not divided, lest they ruin their kingdom. We have one greater reason of love and unity observed than all the rest. For whereas God made not all angels of one angel, nor all beasts of the great behemoth, nor all fishes of the huge leviathan, nor all birds of the majestical eagle, yet he made all men of one man.—T. Adams.
We are but several streams issuing from one primitive source; one blood flows in all our veins; one nourishment repairs our decayed bodies; we are co-habitants of the same earth, and fellow-citizens of the same great commonwealth; and he that hates another detests his own most lively picture; he that harms another injures his own nature.… The heavenly angels, when they agree most highly to bless and to wish the greatest happiness to mankind, could not better express their sense than by saying, “Be on earth peace, and goodwill among men.”—Barrow.
It is easier to abstain from a contest than to withdraw from it.—Seneca.
Both the destructive elements—fire and water—illustrate the danger of the beginning of strife (chap. Proverbs 26:21). To neither element can we say, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further!” (Job 38:11).… Seldom when we have heard the first word, do we hear the last. An inundation of evil is poured in.… The bank is much more easily preserved than repaired.… For, as one strongly observed, “Man knows the beginning of sin, but who bounds the issues thereof?—Bridges.
Quietness is like a pleasant pond full of sweet fish sporting themselves up and down in it, and multiplying continually to a great increase; so in a quiet life men’s affairs do prosper, and their estate is increased to plenty and abundance, so that they bathe themselves in the comfort of it. But let the sluice be taken up, the fishes are quickly gone, the waters stay not until they be gone also, and nothing but mud and mire is left; and even so let the gap of contention be opened, all comforts flee away, and usually the estates sink lower and lower until it be dried up to beggary and misery. Make up, then, all breaches as soon as they appear, or rather keep all sound by watchfulness, so that no breach may appear. And let not the serpent get in his head, for, because the scales of his body stand the other way, it is not easy to get it out again; because the mind of thine adversary is made averse from thee, it is not easy to end a strife begun.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:15
I. A present inversion of moral order. There is an established law, by which things spiritual are governed as well as things material According to this law, punishment ought to come to the unrighteous and the righteous should be justified; that is, they should be declared to be righteous and treated accordingly. This law must and will prevail in the upshot and issue of things, because the Great Lawgiver of the universe is perfectly just and holy; but it does not always govern the dealings of men with men. Injustice may be meted out to a man by his fellow-man from ignorance. A human judge may pass an unjust sentence upon a prisoner, or society may condemn a man undeservedly simply because they are ignorant of all the facts of the case. We are so little capable of weighing all the motives of our fellow-creatures, that we may unwittingly sometimes justify the wicked and condemn the just. But the proverb is evidently directed against those who do it because they are themselves unrighteous—against those who are prompted by motives of self-interest or malice or by a simple hatred of good wherever it is found.
II. A future restitution of moral order. If a man has an ear for music, all discordant tones are displeasing to him; but when the law of harmony is entirely subverted, all his musical sensibilities are outraged. So when a righteous man becomes cognizant of some gross injustice his whole soul rises up in protest against it. What therefore must be the light in which the perfectly pure and just God regards such subversion of moral order? He can but regard it with repugnance. But the certainty of this fact makes another fact no less certain—viz., that there will come a period in the history of the universe when this inversion shall cease, when moral order shall be restored, and it shall be no longer possible for the wicked to be justified, or for the righteous to be condemned. Thus saith the Lord, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.… which justify the wicked for reward and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him. Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah 5:23-24). When this sentence is completely carried out moral order and harmony will be restored to the universe.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This verse shows that the term justify (Hebrew, matzeddik) is forensic, to pronounce just one, even though not just in himself: a keyword in the doctrinal Epistle to the Romans: the opposite of “condemn” or pronounce impious (mareshiang).—Fausset.
That “both” should be, the expression “even” seems to point to as wonderful. They are both very plain propositions; and yet neither of them, in the mind of the sinner, is free from half-conscious surprise. That God “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7) and, therefore, that “without the shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22), when learned, is half the gospel. To learn it easily, would imply that “then hath the offence of the Cross ceased” (Galatians 5:11). God will not condemn Himself in His “righteous” action, and He cannot “justify the wicked” without a mediator; and Solomon, without being able to clear all the difficulties, sets in this sentence as one of the great timbers of thought, which he looks to to defend the gospel.—Miller.
He spareth the wolf and so hurteth the lambs; He toucheth the members of Christ and the very apples of the Lord’s eye.—Muffet.
But let us place ourselves before the “Judge of all” accused by Satan, our own conscience, and the righteous law of God; convicted of every charge; yet justified. Does God then in thus “justifying the ungodly” (Romans 4:5) contravene this rule? Far from it. If He justifies the wicked, it is on account of righteousness (Ib. Proverbs 3:25-26). If He condemns the just, it is on the imputation of unrighteousness. Nowhere throughout the universe do the moral perfections of the Governor of the world shine so gloriously as at the cross of Calvary. The satisfaction of the holy law, and the manifestation of righteous mercy, harmonise with the justification of the condemned sinner. And this combined glory tunes the song of everlasting praise.—Bridges.
That condemning the just is a grievous crime, there is no doubt. But some will be startled at the wise man’s assertion, that justifying the wicked is a crime of the like nature and malignity. But we rebel against God by turning to the right hand, as well as by turning to the left, from that way in which we are commanded to walk. Justifying the wicked has an appearance of mercy in it, but there is cruelty to millions in unreasonable acts of mercy to individuals. It was not altogether without ground observed by a senator to the Emperor Cocceius Nerva, when his detestation of his predecessor’s cruelty seduced him into extremes of clemency,—That it was bad to live in a state where every thing was forbidden, but worse to live in a state where every thing was allowed. Historians tell us, that the provinces of the empire suffered more oppression under the administration of this mild prince, than in the bloody reign of Domitian.—Lawson.
As in the administration of justice, in the world or in the Church, so in the official declaration of doctrine and of duty, faithfulness is the first and most essential qualification. No “gift,” no bribe, no love of gain,—or, in the apostle’s words, “greed of filthy lucre,”—must ever be allowed to corrupt “the man of God,” and tempt him either to pervert or to keep back the truth—to “shun to declare” any part of “the counsel of God,” or to utter a single sentiment but what he believes to be a lesson of God’s word, a divinely authorised message. For a minister of Christ either to say what is false or to withhold what is true, from a wish to please those on whom he may feel himself dependent, is as unworthy of him as for a judge on the civil bench to pervert justice, and may be to others unspeakably more mischievous. The decisions of the latter can affect only what is temporary; the effects of the former’s unfaithful temporising may extend to eternity. The guilt of the former, therefore, may be greater than that of the latter, in the proportion of the value of the soul to the body, of eternity to time. There must be no bribery or corruption here. O to be able to say with Paul, “I am clear from the blood of all men.”—Wardlaw.
When Jacob, blessing the sons of Joseph, put his hands across, and laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh the elder, the thing displeased Joseph. But Jacob refused to have his hands removed. Now that which Jacob did in the blessing of his grandchildren, the same is the cursed doing of many who in the world are seated in the place of justice. For those whom God setteth on His right hand, they set on the left, those whom God setteth on His left hand they set on the right … And though God Himself call to them, Not so, yet they refuse to alter their sentence … And though their hands in justifying go across, yet being joined together in wickedness they are both an abomination to the Lord.—Jermin.
He that saith to the wicked, thou art righteous
(1) condemneth the law of God, for that condemneth the wicked;
(2) doth as much as he may to bring sin into credit, that others also should practise it without fear or reproach;
(3) hardeneth the heart and hurteth the soul of the offender, debarring him from corrections, which are God’s medicines for the curing of evils. He dealeth as a murderer under the name of a physician that encourageth his patient to eat the poison freely.—Dod.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:16
I. One of the uses which ought to be made of wealth. Men ought to use it to “get wisdom.” It is obvious that a wealthy man has more opportunities of gaining knowledge than a poor man has, and an increase of knowledge ought to make a man wiser. A rich man’s wealth gives him access to the wisdom of the great minds of past ages, and it often obtains for him the companionship of the most learned men of his own generation. It enables him to gain a knowledge of the world on which he lives and of the men who people it; by travel he can stand face to face with all the glorious works of God in nature, and he can mingle with men of various races and see human nature in all its various phases. And these experiences ought to make him a wise man. Wealth is given to men for this purpose, among others, to make them intellectually and morally better—for although spiritual blessings cannot be purchased for money, yet where the grace of God is in the heart, the “price in the hand” will increase a man’s opportunities of growing in the knowledge of God and in the practice of godliness. Those who are “rich in this world” may and ought to lay “up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:17-19). Their wealth ought not to be a hindrance but a help to high spiritual attainments. When we use bread rightly we get strength out of it; when we use water rightly we get refreshment out of it; when we use light rightly we get guidance out of it; and when the gift of wealth is rightly used, men get wisdom out of it.
II. Wealth bestowed, where we can give no reason for its bestowal. Wealth in the hand of a fool seems thrown away. If we saw a bundle of bank-notes in the hands of an infant we should at once say they were in the wrong hand; but many a princely fortune is at the disposal of men who are as incapable now of putting it to a good use, as they were when they were children. Neither the head nor the heart are capable of guiding the hand—there is neither moral nor intellectual capability to make the riches the means of blessing even the possessor. “Wherefore,” then, “is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom,” especially when there are so many men in poverty who would make the best possible use of riches? We cannot answer the question. Even the wise man does not attempt to solve the problem. Men daily come face to face with facts connected with human existence which they cannot explain. In some of these they can see adaptation; although they cannot tell how it is that the thing is so, they can discern a fitness in its being so. But there are other facts in the government of God for which we can assign no reason, and the “price in the hand of a fool” is one of them. The Divine Ruler of men’s destinies fulfils His wise purposes in ways and by means which often perplex His finite creatures.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We understand the term “a price,” as signifying whatever puts it in anyone’s power to acquire the particular object. The phraseology is borrowed from the market. Any article, we are wont to say, may be had there, if a man has but the price to pay for it. What the “price” is to the article wanted, the means of acquiring are to “wisdom.” When we wish to put any article of ordinary merchandise within a person’s power, we furnish that person with the price at which it is valued. There are cases, however, in which this may not be enough. The price may be in a man’s hand, and yet the article may not be within his reach, not, at the time, to be had. Happily, it is never so with the wisdom here spoken of. If the means are possessed of acquiring it, it may always be acquired. It is in the hand of God himself; and He is never either at a distance that we cannot repair to Him, or unwilling to bestow it upon us when we come to Him for it—bestow it, I say, for we must remember, with regard to divine wisdom, that, in a literal sense, it cannot be purchased. It must be had “without money and without price.” It is not to be “gotten for gold.” Why is it, then, that in so many cases in which “the price is in the hand to get wisdom,” the means of securing it possessed, its lessons remained unlearned, the mind ignorant, the heart unimproved?… Here is the answer—the only one that can with truth be given,—there has been “no heart to it.” The principle is of wide application, and might be largely illustrated … There is no maxim more thoroughly established by experience, than that a man cannot excel in anything to which his heart does not lie. When do men succeed best in the pursuit of any object? Is it not when they have a heart to it? What is it that keeps all men astir in the pursuit and acquisition of wealth? Is it not that they have a heart to it? How do men acquire celebrity in any of the departments of science or of art? Is it not when they have a heart to it?—some measure of enthusiastic eagerness and persevering delight in the pursuit?… I put it to your consciences,—whether there be anything else whatever, that keeps you from the knowledge and the fear of God, wherein true religion consists, than your having no heart to them? Talk not to me of inability:—your inability is entirely moral, and consists in nothing else whatever than your “having no heart” to that which is good. And is this not criminal? If not, then there is no sin nor crime on earth, in hell, in the universe; nor is the existence or the conception of such a thing as moral evil possible. The want of heart to that which is good, is the very essence of all that is sinful. You offer anything but a valid excuse for your want of religion, when you say you “have no heart to it.” You plead in excuse the very essence of your guilt. If you desired to fear God, and could not help the contrary, your inability might be something in your behalf. But the thing cannot be. To desire to fear God, and not to be able, is a contradiction in terms. The having of the desire is the having of the principle. There can be no desiring to fear without fearing, no desiring to love without loving.—Wardlaw.
No means can make a man wise who wanteth a good will to learn heavenly wisdom. Ishmael had good education, and Ahithophel had quick capacity, and the fool spoken of in the Gospel had great wealth, and none of all these attained to any grace. One of them was strong, and another witty, and another wealthy, but never a one wise and godly. Judas had as good a teacher as Peter, or any other apostle, and had as good company, and saw as many miracles; and yet they having good hearts became worthy and excellent persons, and he having a false heart became a traitor and a devil.—Dod.
Wherefore serve good natural parts, either of body or mind; or authority, opportunity, or other advantages, if they be not rightly improved and employed? Certainly they will prove no better than Uriah’s letters to those that have them; or as the sword which Hector gave to Ajax, which, so long as he used it against his enemies, served for help and defence, but after he began to abuse it, turned into his own bowels. This will be a bodkin at thy heart one day: “I might have been saved, but I woefully let slip those opportunities which God had thrust into my hand.” Trapp.
Proverbs 17:17. “Friend and brother are related the one as the climax of the other. The friend is developed into a brother by adversity.” (Lange’s Commentary).
I. A true friend loves under all conditions.
1. He loves in times of separation. The distance between our earth and the sun does not prevent the one from influencing the other—there is a power in gravitation which can make itself felt even when the objects affected by it are thousands of miles apart. So true love is quite independent of space—oceans may roll between the friends, yea, the very grave may separate them, and yet the gravitating force which first drew the heart of one man to another will make itself felt. It has been said that the dead and the absent have no friends, but this is a libel upon human nature. A friend loveth whether the object of his love is present or absent, and will, if needs be, defend his friend’s character when he is not present to speak for himself.
2. He loves even in times of temporary estrangement. Transitory differences are not incompatible with the most genuine friendship, and while human nature is in its present imperfect condition it will sometimes happen that one real and true friend will disappoint and grieve another. But if the real and true feeling is in the heart it will be as unshaken by these temporary disturbances as the root of the tree is by the storm-wind that moves its branches.
II. Friendship is especially precious in times of trial. True friends are not like the locust, which seeks only the green pastures and fruitful fields, and leaves them as soon as it has taken from them all that it could feed upon, but they are like the stars, the value of whose light is only really understood when all other lights are absent. When all is going well with a man he may underestimate the value of his friend’s regard; he may not really know how heartfelt it is; but when misfortune, or sickness, or bereavement overtake him, he realises that a “brother is born for adversity.”
III. There is a bond stronger than any tie of blood-relationship. We have abundant and melancholy proofs that the mere fact of being brothers according to the flesh does not make men one in heart. The first man who tasted death was murdered by his brother, and many sons of the same father since that day have been separated from each other by a hatred as deep and deadly as that which prompted Cain to murder Abel. In the family in which Solomon was a son there was one brother with the blood of another upon his head (2 Samuel 13:28-30). Something stronger and deeper than the mere tie of blood is needed to make men one in heart. The most beautiful example of friendship upon record existed between the son of Saul and the shepherd of Bethlehem where there was no relationship according to the flesh, and where the heir-apparent to the throne loved as his own soul the youth who was to supplant him. There is no friendship so firm and enduring as that which is based upon doing the will of God (Mark 3:35) no brotherhood so perfect and lasting as that which has its origin in a common discipleship to Him who is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:11), and who is Himself the “Friend above all others,” whose love can span the distance between His throne in glory and the meanest hovel upon earth, and the greater distance between Divine perfection and human sinfulness, and who was in all things “made like unto his brethren,” that having Himself “suffered being tempted, He might be able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17), and thus prove Himself to be pre-eminently the “Brother born for adversity,” and the “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
IV. It is an evidence of great folly to treat men as bosom-friends before we know them. There are men who will trust in a comparative stranger to such an extent as to lend their credit and their good name to him without any reasonable security. Such a man Solomon here characterises as being “void of understanding.” It is a mark of a fool to enter into any engagement without deliberation, and in nothing does lack of wisdom more plainly manifest itself than in the formation of hasty friendships, especially if the friendship involves a man in any kind of suretyship. From lack of prudence in this matter many a man has been “all his lifetime subject to bondage.” It behoves all men in the matter of friendship to follow the advice of Polonius:—
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.
ILLUSTRATION OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP
Damon was sentenced to die on a certain day, and sought permission of Dionysius of Syracuse to visit his family in the interim. It was granted on condition of securing a hostage for himself. Pythias heard of it, and volunteered to stand in his friend’s place. The king visited him in prison, and conversed with him about the motive of his conduct, affirming his disbelief in the influence of friendship. Pythias expressed his wish to die, that his friend’s honour might be vindicated. He prayed the gods to delay the return of Damon till after his own execution in his stead. The fatal day arrived. Dionysius sat on a moving throne drawn by six white horses. Pythias mounted the scaffold and thus addressed the spectators, “My prayer is heard; the gods are propitious, for the winds have been contrary till yesterday. Damon could not come, he could not conquer impossibilities; he will be here to-morrow, and the blood that is shed to-day shall have ransomed the life of my friend. Could I erase from your bosoms every mean suspicion of the honour of Damon, I should go to my death as I should to my bridal.” … As he closed a voice in the distance cried, “Stop the execution!” and the cry was taken up and repeated by the whole assembly. A man rode up at full speed’ mounted the scaffold, and embraced Pythias crying, “You are safe now, my beloved friend! I have now nothing but death to suffer, and am delivered from reproaches for having endangered a life so much dearer than my own.” Pythias replied, “Fatal haste, cruel impatience! What envious powers have wrought impossibilities in your favour! But I will not be wholly disappointed. Since I cannot die to save you, I will not survive you.” The king was moved to tears, and, ascending the scaffold, cried, “Live, live, ye incomparable pair! Ye have borne unquestionable testimony to the existence of virtue, and that virtue equally evinces the existence of a God to reward it. Live happy, live renowned, and oh! form me by your precepts, as ye have invited me by your example, to be worthy of the participation of so sacred a friendship.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 17:17. “The Friend.” We are to notice the article. It does not impair the proverb for its secular use. We have such an idiom: “the friend,” i.e., the true friend. Even a worldly friend, to be worth anything, must be for all times; and what is a brother born for, but for distress? But spiritually, the article is just in its place. There is but One Only “Friend,” and a “Brother” who would not have been “born” at all, but for the distress and straitness of His house.—Miller.
Friendship contracted with the wicked decreases from hour to hour, like the early shadow of the morning; but friendship formed with the virtuous will increase like the shadow of evening, till the sun of life shall set.—Herder.
Extremity distinguisheth friends. Worldly pleasures, like physicians, give us over, when once we lie a-dying; and yet the death-bed hath most need of comforts. Christ Jesus standeth by His in the pangs of death, and after death at the bar of judgment; not leaving them either in their bed or grave. I will use them, therefore, to my best advantage; not trust them. But for Thee, O my Lord, which in mercy and truth canst not fail me, whom I have found ever faithful and present in all extremities, kill me, yet will I trust in Thee.—Bp. Hall.
A friend shares my sorrow and makes it but a moiety; but He swells my joy and makes it double. For so two channels divide the river and lessen it into rivulets and make it fordable, and apt to drink up at the first revels of the Syrian star; but two torches do not divide, but increase the flame. And though my tears are the sooner dried up when they run on my friend’s cheek in furrows of compassion; yet when my flame has kindled his lamp, we unite the glories, and make them radiant, like the golden candlesticks that burn before the throne of God; because they shine by numbers, by unions, and confederations of light and joy.—Jeremy Taylor.
When a man blind from his birth was asked what he thought the sun was like, he replied, “Like friendship.” He could not conceive of anything as more fitting as a similitude for what he had been taught to regard as the most glorious of material objects, and whose quickening and exhilarating influences he had rejoiced to feel.—Morris.
A brother for adversity is one who will act the brother in a season of adversity. Of such an one it is said, he must or shall be born, possibly, he is born. I do not understand this last clause unless the assertion is, that none but such as are born brethren, i.e., kindred by blood, will cleave to us in distress. Yet this is true only in a qualified sense. But another shade of meaning may be assigned to the passage, which is, that such a man as a friend in adversity is yet to be born, i.e., none such are now to be found; thus making it substantially equivalent in sense to the expression: “How few and rare are such faithful friends.”—Stuart.
As in the natural, so in the spiritual brotherhood, misery breeds unity. Ridley and Hooper, that when they were bishops, differed so much about ceremonies, could agree well enough, and be mutual comforts one to another when they were both prisoners. Esther concealed her kindred in hard times, but God’s people cannot; Moses must rescue his beaten brother out of the hand of the Egyptian, though he rescue his life by it.—Trapp.
Man in his weakness needs a steady friend, and God in His wisdom has provided one in the constitution of nature. Not entrusting all to acquired friendship, He has given us some as a birthright inheritance. For the day of adversity a brother is born to many who would not have been able to win one. It is at once a glory to God in the highest, and a sweet solace to afflicted men, when a brother or a sister, under the secret and steady impulses of nature, bears and does for the distressed what no other friend, however loving, could be expected to bear or do. How foolish for themselves are those who lightly snap those bonds asunder, or touch them oft with the corrosive drops of contention! One who is born your brother is best fitted to be your friend in trouble, if unnatural strife has not rent asunder those whom their Maker intended to be one in spirit.… “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” He must be a fast friend indeed, for a brother, if nature’s affections have been cherished, lies close in, and keeps a steady hold.… Oh, when hindering things are taken out of the way of God’s work, a brother lies very close to a brother. He who comes closer must be no common friend.… It is the idea of a friendship more perfect, fitting more kindly into our necessities, and bearing more patiently with our weaknesses, than the instinctive love of a brother by birth. From God’s hand-work in nature a very tender and a very strong friendship proceeds: from His covenant of mercy comes a friendship tenderer and stronger still. Now, although the conception is embodied in the communion of saints, its full realisation is only found in the love wherewith Christ loves His own.… The precious germ which Solomon’s words unfold, bore its ripened fruit only when He who is bone of our bone gave Himself the just for the unjust. Thus by a surer process than verbal criticism, we are conducted to the man Christ Jesus, as at once the Brother born for adversity, and the friend that sticketh closer than a brother.… In the day of your deepest adversity even a born brother must let go his hold. That extremity is the opportunity of your best friend.—Arnot.
Proverbs 17:18. It is good to try him whom we intend for a bosom friend before we trust him; as men prove their vessels with water before they fill them with wine. Many complain of the treachery of their friends, and say, with Queen Elizabeth, that in trust they have found treason; but most of these have greatest cause, if all things be duly weighed, to complain of themselves for making no better choice.—Swinnock.
Seeing he hath not understanding to keep himself from hurt, it were good if he had not power in his hand to do himself hurt.… Surely such a fool may quickly wring his hands together in sorrow, who before did clap his hands in joy, and may strike himself in anger with the same hand, wherewith in the foolish kindness of surety he struck the hand of another.… For often this over-kind part of a friend is the breaking of friendship if it bring no further mischief.—Jermin.
The evil effects of strife and pride, which form the subject of Proverbs 17:19, have been treated before. See on Proverbs 17:14, and on chaps. Proverbs 11:2, and Proverbs 16:18. Some expositors attach a slight difference to the meaning of the latter clause. See below.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“Sets high (exalteth) his gate;” a figure that is probably misunderstood. It probably means belligerence. A moat over which issued armed bands, with banners and mounted spearmen, required high space to let them go forth. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” etc. The soul that fixes itself that way against the Almighty, ready to march out upon Him on any occasion of quarrel, “seeks” ruin.—Miller.
The slothful man exposes himself to misery; but he waits for it till it comes upon him like a traveller. The aspiring man, that cannot be happy without a stately dwelling, and a splendid manner of living beyond what his estate will bear, seeks for destruction, and sends a coach and six to bring it to him.—Lawson.
“And he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.” Some take this for a comparison:—As surely as he that exalteth his gate (enlarging it out of due proportion) seeketh destruction to his house, by thus weakening its structure,—so surely does he that loveth strife generate transgression. The phrase “exalteth his gate,” however, instead of being thus understood literally, may, with more propriety, be interpreted of a man’s ambitiously affecting a style of living beyond his income—disproportionate to the amount of his means of maintaining it. The general character is described by one particular manifestation of it—the high style of the exterior of his mansion. The “exalting of the gate” applies to the entire style of his household establishment—not to his dwelling merely, but to his equipage, his table, his servants, his dress, and everything else. He who does this “seeks destruction:” he courts his own downfall, as effectually as if it were his direct object to ruin himself. Matthew Henry, in his own quaint and pithy way, says—“He makes his gate so large, that his house and estate go out at it.”—Wardlaw.
There is none that loveth strife more than he that exalteth his gate, either the gate of his ears to hear the tales of others, and the praises of himself, or else the gates of his eyes overlooking others with scorn and disdain, and his own worth by many degrees, or else the gate of his mouth, which is properly the gate of man, with big and swelling words, with high and lofty terms which usually are the sparks that kindle contention. But what doth such an one do, but even seek for destruction, which at his lifted-up gate, findeth easy passage to run in upon him.—Jermin.
Proverbs 17:22. A broken spirit. Miller renders “an upraiding spirit,” i.e., spirit which cavils at God’s providential dealings.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:22
THE MERRY HEART
I. The mind acts upon the body. It is a fact which no observant man would deny, that there is an intimate connection between sorrow of soul and sickness of body, and that cheerfulness of spirit tends to physical health. A physician always tries to keep his patient in good spirits, and when he discerns that he is weighed down by some mental burden, he wisely seeks to lighten that as well as to administer remedies to the body. And when a man is in health cheerfulness of disposition tends to keep him so; while a depressed condition of mind makes him a more easy prey to disease. That “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones,” is a convincing proof of the mysterious sympathy that exists between the man and his earthly dwelling-place.
II. What will conduce to cheerfulness of spirit—to what Solomon here calls “a merry heart?”
1. A heart at peace with God. Some poisons taken into the system produce for a time a calming and quieting influence upon the body, but it is a quiet and a calm which comes from deadening the capabilities of feeling. Opium may send a man to sleep, but it is a sleep which gives neither refreshment nor strength. A quiet conscience is the first and indispensable element of heart-cheerfulness, and there are other methods of getting free for a time from pain of conscience beside “that peace with God which comes from being justified by faith” (Romans 5:1). But all other quiet of soul comes from opiates whose power is but for a time, while this peace comes from the consciousness of reconciliation with God—from a sense of standing in a right relation to all that is right and true in the universe.
2. A vivid realization of unseen realities. Though a state of reconciliation with God will give freedom from the sense of guilt, it does not always give that active state of cheerfulness which can be called “a merry heart.” A river sometimes glides along between its banks in a state of undisturbed calmness; but there are times when the volume of water is so great that it overflows its channels. Peace is like a calm river, but joy is like one whose waters cannot contain themselves within its boundaries, but must pour forth on the right hand and on the left. Peace has been defined as “love resting,” and joy as “love exulting.” The one is a passive state of mind, while the other is active. But it is the latter, rather than the former, which makes that cheerful spirit which “doeth good like a medicine,” and it is the fruit only of a vivid sense of “things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Those who live on high lands and breathe the pure mountain air, are conscious of an exuberance of animal life, of which even perfectly healthy people who live in the valleys know nothing. So, men who live in the higher regions of spiritual life know a “joy in God”—are sensible of an uplifting of spirit—to which ordinary and every-day Christians are strangers. They are not only believers, but they are filled with “all joy and peace in believing;” they not only have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” but they “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
3. A life of active love. A selfish man can never be a cheerful man—he who lives for himself alone can never know the healing power of “a merry heart.” There can be no abiding cheerfulness of heart without joy in God, and there can be no abiding joy in God without love to man. “There is nothing,” says Dr. Maclaren, “more evanescent in its nature than the emotion of religious joy, faith, or the like, unless it be turned into a spring of action for God. Such emotions, like photographs, vanish from the heart unless they be fixed. Work for God is the way to fix them. Joy in God is the strength of work for God, but work for God is the perpetuation of joy in God.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Mirth is short and transient, cheerfulness fixed and permanent. Those are often raised into the greatest transports of mirth who are subject to the greatest depressions of melancholy. On the contrary, cheerfulness, though it does not give the mind such an exquisite gladness, prevents us from falling into any depths of sorrow. Mirth is like a flash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind.… Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health. Repinings and secret murmurs of heart give imperceptible strokes to those delicate fibres of which the vital parts are composed, and wear out the machine insensibly; not to mention those violent ferments which they stir up in the blood, and those irregular disturbed motions which they raise in the animal spirits. I scarce remember, in my own observation, to have met with many old men, or with such who (to use our English phrase) wear well, that had not at least a certain indolence in their humour, if not a more than ordinary gaiety and cheerfulness of heart. The truth is, health and cheerfulness mutually beget each other.—Addison.
The verb means, to cure, and, as far as we can fix it, the noun means, not a medicine, but a final “cure.” In the world at large cheerfulness is an immense gift; but in religion the wise man wishes to say that hopefulness is strength (Nehemiah 8:10); that it is better to look cheerfully upon God, than with complaints; that if we are to be cured at all, a glad heart will help it.—Miller.
All true mirth is from rectitude of the mind, from a right frame of soul. When faith hath once healed the conscience, and grace hath hushed the affections, and composed all within, so that there is a sabbath of the spirit, and a blessed tranquillity lodged in the soul, then the body also is vigorous and vigetous, for most part in very good plight and healthful constitution, which makes man’s life very comfortable.… They that in the use of lawful means wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).—Trapp.
Proverbs 17:23. A gift, i.e., a bribe, judgment. i.e., justice.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:23
I. Its nature. An act of bribery may be committed without any monetary transaction taking place. It is not necessary that gold should pass from hand to hand to make a man guilty of bribery. It is not even necessary that there should be a distinct promise of any good either in the present or the future. A man bribes another if he merely implies by word or deed that he can make him suffer for speaking what he knows is the truth, and for acting according to the dictates of his conscience. And a man is guilty of accepting a bribe it he abstains from such speech or action from a fear of loss or from a hope of gain, although no distinct promise or threatening has been made by those whom he wishes to propitiate.
II. Its cause. Want of integrity on the part of both the man who offers the bribe and him who accepts it. There are some men in the world to whom even a man who held their lives in his hand would not think of offering a bribe of any kind. He knows it would be as useless to attempt to make such men swerve from the path of right as to try to alter the course of the earth round the sun. There are many, we know, in this country, notwithstanding its many timeservers and place-hunters who, like Samuel of old can say, “Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken, or whom have I defrauded, whom have I oppressed, or of whose hands have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? (1 Samuel 12:3). Only one thing is needed to destroy bribery—in its most impalpable and shadowy forms as well as in its more glaring and shameless manifestations—and that is universal honesty of character. When every man loves truth and right more than he loves material gain then bribery will cease, but not before. Men may be restrained by shame from being guilty of it openly, and will call it by some less obnoxious name, but the spirit of bribery will be at work so long as there are men upon the earth who love gain more than godliness.
III. The universal testimony of the human conscience against it. “The wicked man taketh a gift out of his bosom”—it is a transaction of secrecy—there is a shame connected with the act which proves that conscience condemns it. The man who offers the bribe does not do it openly, which shows that he is fully conscious that he is transgressing the law of right; and the man who accepts it does not boast openly that he has done so for the same reason. Bribery is a sin which is repeatedly denounced by God (Isaiah 1:23-24; Ezekiel 22:13), but men who have not possessed the light of revelation have denounced bribery as a crime.
IV. Its effect. It “perverts the ways of justice.” Its effect is to bring about that abomination mentioned in Proverbs 17:15—the justification of the wicked and the condemnation of the just. (See Homiletics on that verse.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
An honest man would rather lose his cause, however just, than gain it by such a base thing as a bribe. It must have been a great bondage for Paul to have been confined in a prison, when he loved the pulpit so well, had not his will been sunk in the will of God; yet he would not offer the least bribe to his covetous judge, who detained him in prison, expecting that money would be offered for his freedom (Acts 24:6).—Lawson.
Is not the child of God often pressed with this temptation? Does the influence of a gift, the sense of obligation, never repress the bold consistency of godliness? Does no bias of friendship, no plausible advantage, entice into a crooked path.—Bridges.
There is a gift of thankfulness, there is a gift of reconciliation, there is a gift of goodwill, all these are lawful. Besides these there is a gift of corruption; this is unlawful.—Muffet.
Bribery is an officious fellow, and a special bidder to the fatal banquet. (Proverbs 9:17-18.) He invites both forward and froward: the forward and yielding by promises of good cheer, secunda dies, that they shall have a fair day of it; the backward, honest man, by terrors and menaces that his cause shall else go westward (indeed, it goes to Westminster!). Yea, with pretence of commiseration and pity, as if the conscience of their right did animate him to their cause. Thus with a show of sanctimony they get a saint’s money; but indeed, argentum fæcundum, argumentum facundum,—there is no persuasion more pathetical than the purse’s. Bribery stands at the stairfoot in the robes of an officer, and helps up injury to the place of audience; thus Judas’s bag is drawn with two strings, made of silk and silver, favour and reward. All officers belong not to one court; their conditions alter with their places. There are some that seem so good that they lament the vices, whereupon they yet inflict but pecuniary punishments. Some of them are like the Israelites, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, with the motto of that old emblem, In utrumque paratus; as the one daubs up justice, so the other cuts breaches of division. They mourn for truth and equity, as the sons of Jacob for Joseph, when themselves sold it; they exclaim against penal transgressions.… If the party be innocent, let his cause be sentenced for his innocence’s sake; if guilty, let not gold buy out his punishment. If the cause be doubtful, the judge shall see it worse when he hath blinded his eyes with bribes. But the will of the giver doth transfer right of the gift to the receiver. No; for it is not a voluntary will. But as a man is willing to give his purse to the thief rather than venture life or limb, so the poor man gives his bribes rather than hazard his cause. Thou sayest the thief has no right to the purse so given; God saith, Nor thou to the bribe … Far be from our souls this wickedness, that the ear which should be open to complaints is thus stopped with the ear-wax of partiality. Alas! poor Truth, that she must now be put to the charges of a golden ear-pick, or she cannot be heard.—T. Adams.
Proverbs 17:24. Many explain this verse to mean that the wise find wisdom everywhere while the fool seeks it everywhere but in the right place. Delitzsch and others understand the proverb to mean that wisdom is the aim of the man of understanding while the fool has no definite aim in life.
THE EYES OF A FOOL AND THOSE OF A WISE MAN
I. Even a fool is conscious that there is good to be found. If we meet a traveller in search of a certain city, even although he is journeying in the very opposite direction to that in which the city lies, yet the fact that he is journeying at all shows that he is conscious of its existence. His eyes may be turned away from it instead of towards it, his feet may be carrying him every moment farther from it, yet he would not be seeking it in any direction if he had not a persuasion that it was in existence. A man may be digging for gold in a soil in which gold has never been found, nor ever will be, but the fact that he is digging anywhere proves that he is alive to the fact that there is gold in the world. So the fool is here represented as seeking—which shows that he is persuaded that there is a certain good and desirable thing which is attainable. Most men are seeking—“There be many which say, Who will show us any good?” (Psalms 4:6). They are in one direction and another looking for that which will satisfy and ennoble them, and this universal quest proves a universal sense of the existence of some desirable good.
II. But the fool looks afar for what he needs while it is close at hand. An idle, unpractical man of business spends his time in fancies that he could make his fortune if he were in some far-off land, and all the time misses the opportunities of doing so which are within his reach at home. The idle youth dreams of the great things he would do if he were a man, and neglects to do that which would ennoble and bless his present life. It is a very common characteristic of moral fools to imagine that they would be blest if they possessed something which is entirely beyond their reach, whereas means of obtaining the only real and lasting good are scattered around them so abundantly that they trample them every day under their feet. Every sinful man feels that it would be good for him to stand in a different relation to God, but he does not always seek that good in the direction in which it is to be found. He feels his need of a different disposition and character, but he does not go in quest of them where they may be found. In Proverbs 17:22 the wise man traces this habit of the moral fool to its source. He finds “no good” because he “is froward in heart.” The fruitlessness of his search is due to nothing else but to his own perversity. He would rather demand external evidence for the truth of revelation than test it by compliance with its precepts. He excuses his neglect of the plain commands of God, by dwelling upon mysteries connected with His gospel, which finite minds cannot solve. Israel of old was warned against this error. “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldst say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). And Paul convicts them of the same sin after the coming of the Messiah. The Scribes and Pharisees in the days of Christ perversely looked everywhere for light, except to the moral sun which was shining in their midst.
III. The man whose understanding is enlightened not only knows what he needs, but he knows where to find it. It is a mark of practical sagacity in human affairs to know what is wanted, and to know also where to look for a supply of the want. A traveller ought not only to know the name of the city which he wants to find, but he ought to know upon which road to travel to find it. The physician ought not only to know what his patient needs, but he ought to know where to find the remedy. The statesman ought to be able to detect the nation’s needs, and he ought also to know where to look for a supply of the need. And so in every department of social life. A man’s life will be a failure if he can only discern that something is wanting in himself, in his family, or in his business, but does not know where to turn to supply the want. So is it in spiritual things. But he who is morally wise knows what is the real good to be aimed at, and knows where to seek it. He knows that “happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding,” that “the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold” (chap. Proverbs 3:13-14). And he knows that it is “before him”—that the “fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28); and that he need not go “to the ends of the earth” in quest of this, but that it is within the reach of every sincere and earnest seeker. (Many expositors give this verse a different rendering. See Critical Notes. It would then express a truth similar to that contained in Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:14, page 313).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Heaven is able to know so much more plainly than hell. The very thing which is the best enlightener, the minds of hell will be entirely without. “The depth saith, It is not in me; and the sea saith, It is not in me. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.” Hell, therefore, will always cavil. If saints judge better than sinners, how much better God than saints. “Wisdom is before (His) very face,” while the “eyes,” not of the “stupid” only, but of Gabriel himself, must be in the respect of the contrast, “at the end of the earth.” “At the end,” not in the middle, where the thing can be best judged, but at the dark extremity.—Miller.
The countenance is the glass of the mind, and the star of the countenance is the eye. “In the face of the prudent wisdom is present.” In the whole countenance of the discreet person, and in every part thereof, there is a wise moderation; for in his brows he carrieth calmness, in his eyes modesty, in his cheeks cheerfulness, in his lips comeliness, in his whole face a certain grace and staidness. “But the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth.” On the contrary, he who is simple or vain governeth not his very eyes aright, but letteth loose unto them the bridle in such sort as that they roll or rove after every vanity, or pry into every corner.—Muffet.
We must not only learn wisdom, but keep it in our eyes, that it may be a light to our feet; for a man that has wisdom in his mind, and forgets to use it, is like one that has money in his chest, but forgets to carry some of it with him when he is going a long journey, to bear his necessary expenses. He will be at a great loss, on many occasions, that has money in his house, but none in his pocket.—Lawson.
“But the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.” He has no fixed and steady principle or rule; nothing on which he fixes his eye for his guidance. His thoughts are incessantly wandering after matters he has nothing to do with,—anything and everything but that which he should at the time be minding;—roving after every vanity, and keeping steadily to no pursuit. It is specially true of “things pertaining to salvation.” Wisdom, in this matter above all others, is “before him that hath understanding.” He looks to one point. He sees one thing to be needful. He sees the wisdom of God providing for it. There he fixes. And this is wisdom. It is ever before him. One end—one means. Whereas “the fool’s eyes are in the ends of the earth.” He has examined nothing. He roves at random, with no determinate ideas about the most interesting, by infinite degrees, of all concerns. Ask him how he hopes to be saved, and you immediately discover his thoughtless unsettledness. He is in “the ends of the earth.” His answer is to seek. It is here, it is there, it is nowhere. He hesitates, he supposes, he guesses, he is at a stand—he cannot tell.… There is another character that may here be meant, namely, the schemer, the visionary projector. The truly intelligent man applies the plain and obvious dictates of common sense to the attainment of his end; but the scheming visionary fool is ever after out-of-the-way plans, new and farfetched expedients.—Wardlaw.
Wisdom is full in the sight of the man of understanding, he beholdeth the beauty and perfection of it, he looketh into the worth and happiness of it. He sets it before him as a pattern, by which he frameth and ordereth all his ways, all his doings. His eye is never from it. It is the glass by which he espieth out the blemishes and defects of his life, and if he see in it a true resemblance of himself, it is not the glass that must be said to be true for that cannot be false, but it is himself that is a man of true worth; the glass approving his goodness, not he the goodness of the glass. But a fool beholds wisdom as a thing afar from him; he discerneth not what it is, nor what is the glory and excellency of it: he perceiveth nothing whereby either to take direction from it, or liking to it. He thinketh that he must go to the ends of the earth to get it, and if ever, it is in the end of his life, that he hath any sight of it.… Or else we may understand the latter part of the verse thus: That a fool’s eyes are in the ends of the earth, because in any trouble or distress he looketh all up and down the earth, from one end of it to the other for help and succour, and in the end as a fool remaineth helpless. But wisdom is before him that hath understanding, and stopping his eyes from looking too much that way, turneth them and directeth them up to heaven, where help ought to be sought and is sure to be found.—Jermin.
Proverbs 17:26. Also, rather, even. It emphasizes the verb immediately following, viz., to punish, i.e., to inflict a pecuniary fine. Zockler renders the verse. “Also to punish the righteous is not good, to smile the noble contrary to justice,” and explains the meaning thus, “The fine as a comparatively light penalty which may easily at one time or another fall with a certain justice even on a just man, stands contrasted with the much severer punishment with stripes; and as these two verbal ideas are related, so are also the predicates ‘not good’ and ‘contrary to right’ (above desert, beyond all proportion to the just and reasonable) in the relation of a climax.” Delitzsch reads, “Also to inflict punishment on the righteous is not good; this, that one overthrows the noble on account of his righteousness,” i.e., it is not good when a ruler makes his power to punish to be felt by the innocent as well as by the guilty. Miller translates, “Even deserved punishment to the righteous does not seem good, when designed to chasten the willing with a view to holiness,” and explains his translation of the word generally translated princes, or the noble, by a reference to the Hebrew root from which it is derived and which may be rendered willing or generous.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:26
SMITING THE JUST
This verse has been variously rendered and explained. (See Critical Notes and the comments of different expositors). It suggests, however—
I. That punishment in itself is sometimes necessary and desirable. When the laws of the family are wise and good, it is a great misfortune for the children, and a great sin against them, not to visit their transgressions with a suitable punishment. And it is absolutely essential to the existence of a well-ordered state, that there should be punishment for those who rebel against righteous laws. Civil rule is of Divine ordination—“the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). When, therefore, there is no just cause for civil rebellion, it is a sin not only against the state but against the Ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth, to break the established laws. Punishment forms a necessary part of the government of the universe. God has, both by example and precept, shown its necessity. When there was rebellion in heaven against a perfect government, punishment followed, which was proportioned to the greatness of the transgression—the sentence passed upon the first rebel in the universe and upon those who were confederate with him was a terrible one, but it was only commensurate to the exceeding magnitude of the offence. If rebellion against such a government had been allowed to go unpunished, it would have made way for universal anarchy. And a community of any kind without punishment for transgressors, is lacking in a most essential element of its peace and stability.
II. But those whose moral character fits them to be the awarders of punishment are often the victims of it. The natural and right order of things in this respect is often exactly the reverse of what it ought to be, and just and noble men are treated as transgressors and suffer the punishment which ought to fall upon their persecutors. Might is very far from being right in this world, and even in this country Richard Baxter stood at the bar while Judge Jeffries sat upon the bench. The apostles of the Lord suffered scourging at the hands of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 5:40); Paul was condemned to death by Nero, and Incarnate Righteousness was crucified between two thieves at the instigation of some of the worst men that the world has ever seen. In all these cases, and in ten thousand others, the just were smitten, and as a rule they have suffered, not merely although they were righteous, but because they were so—it was their integrity that aroused the enmity of their persecutors—these moral “princes” were “stricken for equity.”
III. Such an abuse of power will in its turn be visited with punishment. Those who have thus unjustly condemned the righteous, have found in their own personal experience that “to punish the just is not good”—“not good” for their own peace of mind—not good for their future reputation—not good for the nation who instigated them or permitted them to do the deed. Haman found that it was not good for him to aim a blow at the upright Mordecai when he was himself hanged upon his own gallows; the Persian princes found it was not good to strike a prince for equity when they were themselves cast into the den of lions; Judge Jeffries found it out when he lay face to face with death in the Tower. And among all the nations whose history has confirmed the truth of the text, none stands out so prominently as that one whose king was the author of the proverb. The punishment of the just—the striking of moral princes for equity—was one of the most prominent of their national crimes, and He whose death at their hands filled up the measure of their iniquity, declared that it was the great cause of their national ruin. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say if we had been in the days of our fathers we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are the children of them that killed the prophets … Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and Scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:29-35). The Jewish nation has been for nearly nineteen centuries a witness that “to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Even deserved punishment to the righteous does not seem good when designed to chasten the willing with a view to holiness. “Even.” This seems to have been treated as a word de trop. King James’ men make it also; as though Solomon grew tired of sameness, and broke the monotone by a new opening vocable. But with the above rendering it takes its usual sense. “Righteous.” This word and “punishment” bear the weight of the word “even.” Even the righteous, who ought to know better; and “even punishment,” which the righteous, at least, ought to be willing to bear.—Miller.
Often is the wise man’s meaning much beyond his words. To punish the just not only is not good, but it is “the abomination” (Proverbs 17:15)—“an evident token of perdition” (Philip. Proverbs 1:28). If rulers are “a terror to good works,” they are ministers of God in authority, but ministers of Satan in administration. And how will such injustice “abide the day of His coming,” when He shall “lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet!”—Bridges.
The word prince signifies noble, and is differently understood. It may be applied to the nobility of station, or to that of mind. Some give preference to the latter; and by interpreting it of the noble-minded, and the “just” in the former clause, of the righteous or the people of God, make the two clauses thus to correspond, and to have much the same import. It seems, however, both more natural and more comprehensive to consider two ideas as expressed; the one relating to the duty of the ruler, and the other to that of the ruled. It is the incumbent duty of the ruler, on the one part, to administer justice with strict impartiality. It is the duty, on the other part, of subjects to countenance, encourage, and support the ruler in the equitable administration of his trust. To “strike” is evidently to be understood, not literally alone of actual striking, but of “smiting with the tongue” as well as with the fist or the rod,—of all kinds of vituperation and abuse, and attempts to bring the throne into disrepute and odium, and unsettle its stability, by shaking the confidence and attachment of the community. There are many occasions in which a man may be tempted to this. He may, in particular cases, have his mind biassed by pride, by self-interest, by partiality towards a friend, by political predilections; so that even when all has been done with impartial investigation, and the judgment pronounced according to the legitimate rules of evidence and demands of equity, there may be unfair, unreasonable and angry dissatisfaction; and the prince may be smitten for justice. Every man ought to be on his guard against this. The higher the responsibility,—the more burdensome and difficult the trust,—and the more serious the results of bringing authorities and the laws into disesteem, and unsettling public confidence in them,—ought to be the amount of our reluctant caution in pronouncing censure. Another remark may be ventured. One of the great difficulties with which governments of great nations have to contend, arises from the variety of crossing and contending interests with which they have to deal. How anxious soever they may honestly be, to allow no undue bias to draw them from the line of impartial justice, yet there is hardly a measure they can adopt that does not affect differently different classes of the community; so that, from their various predisposing circumstances, that shall appear to one class—to those in one particular department of trade or commerce—the very essence of injustice, which by another is lauded as a most unexceptionable exemplification of impartial equity. This ought surely to have the effect—I do not by any means say of forbidding the most vigilant observance and the freest and most searching scrutiny and discussion of every measure, and the exposure of its evil or questionable character and tendency—but assuredly of procuring some allowance for the difficulty of the task of pleasing all parties, and some moderation in the tone of censure even where to us the grounds for it are clear and palpable. No man who knows himself will affirm, in almost any case, that, placed, in other circumstances, he might not see with other eyes. I speak in general. There are cases in which the interests of a suffering country are, to a vast extent, involved, in which it becomes every man’s paramount duty to speak out and to speak plainly, and to make the ears of the rulers to tingle with the outcry of humanity and justice. I would further apply the spirit of this verse to the case of arbitrators. We have ourselves, it may be, consented to submit a litigated point to arbitration. We do so with a full persuasion of our being in the right—of our claim being the just one. But the arbiters unite in giving it against us. It would be most unreasonable on our part to retain a grudge, especially at the one appointed by ourselves, on this account. Our reference implied confidence in his impartiality and honour, and implied a pledge of cheerful acquiescence. To grumble, to censure, and to withdraw our friendship, would be indeed to “strike him for equity.” He would have proved himself unworthy of his trust, if his disposition to please and serve us had been too strong for principle, conscience, and oath. There is one government, in which “the just” are never “punished”—all whose laws and all whose sanctions are the perfection of equity. But alas! it is under that very government that the spirit expressed by the phrase “striking princes for equity” is most fearfully manifested. All the murmurings of sinners against either the law of God or its revealed and threatened penalty, are the very essence, in its deepest malignity, of this spirit.—Wardlaw.
Righteous men are princes in all lands (Psalms 45:16); yea, they are kings in righteousness as Melchisedec. Indeed they are somewhat obscure kings as he was, but kings they appear to be, by comparing Matthew 13:17 with Luke 10:24; “many righteous,” saith Matthew, “many kings,” saith Luke. Now, to strike a king is high treason; and although princes have put up blows, as when one struck our Henry VI., he only said, “Forsooth, you do wrong yourself more than me, to strike the Lord’s anointed.”—Trapp.
Proverbs 17:27. Excellent, rather a cool spirit.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 17:27-28
TWO BADGES OF A WISE MAN
I. Reticence of speech. This subject has been dwelt on before. See on chap. Proverbs 10:19-21. The verses before us suggest further that a man who is sparing of words is not necessarily a man of abundant wisdom, for even a fool may hold his peace sometimes. Solomon elsewhere tells us that “a fool uttereth all his mind” (Proverbs 29:11); but the fool of this text is not so foolish as to do that. It has been remarked that “by silence a fool abates something of his senselessness, and since he gets the opportunity to collect himself and to reflect, a beginning of wisdom is developed in him” (Von Gerlach). It argues some amount of wisdom in a man if he is silent when he has nothing to say which is worth the saying. But the false conclusion must not be drawn, that every man who is not given to much speech is a man of great understanding and of vast mental resources. It is much better that the stone should remain upon the mouth of a well of impure water, but it must not be taken for granted, because the well is kept closed, that there is a supply of life-giving water within.
II. Calmness of temper. It is a mark of wisdom to strive after a “cool” (excellent) “spirit.”
1. It makes life more pleasant. A man who allows himself to be vexed and irritated by all the annoyances of every-day life has no enjoyment of his existence. A fretful and hasty temper makes every bitter draught more bitter, and takes the sweetness out of the cup that would otherwise be a pleasant one.
2. It makes a man more respected and more useful. A man who cannot curb his temper is a despicable object, and will certainly be despised. A passionate man may be pitied and excused, but he cannot be respected. Hence he cannot have much influence for good upon others. This subject also has been treated before. See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 14:17; Proverbs 14:29, pages 363 and 386.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“He that restrains his words knows knowledge.” The words are precise. It is the fact that he “knows knowledge” that impels a man to restrain his words. If he did not “know knowledge,” if he had not light, and did not know it when he saw it; if he did not see light in God, and know it when he has seen it, and really see enough of it to convince him that “God is light,” he could not stand the darkness. The unfortunates in hell have no light to enable them to endure the dark. But the saint, knowing knowledge, and seeing that it exists in God, is balanced enough against the mysteries to enable him to restrain his words.… The wise man asserts that this silence is a chief mark of piety.… If a man do shut his lips he is wise.… The fool is a wise man when he is silent, and when, in meek submission, he bows to what he cannot understand.—Miller.
He cannot be known for a fool who says nothing. He is a fool, not who hath unwise thoughts, but who utters them. Even concealed folly is wisdom.—Bp. Hall.
He that hath knowledge hath not many words: the fulness of the one causeth in him a scarcity of the other. And there is nothing that he spendeth idly more unwillingly than his words. But yet, having knowledge, he knoweth both when to spare and when to spend.… The original words here are knowing knowledge, for many know much, but it is not knowledge that they know. Some labour hard and waste their time to know needless vanities, which, being better unknown, have not true knowledge in them.… Right knowledge is the knowledge of the Lord, and he that knoweth this spareth his words to spend them to God’s glory. And as it is in many the penury of their knowledge that causeth the superfluity of their words, so chiefly it is the lack of this knowledge. For by this knowledge we learn that an account must be given for every idle word.… Silence being so rare a virtue, where wisdom doth command it, it is accounted a virtue where folly doth impose it. He that fails of this first help, and is so far gone in folly as that his tongue outgoes his understanding, yet hath a second help, and that is to stop, and shut his lips before they go too far, which, though not the first, yet is a second praise; and he hath the repute of some understanding who either seeth, or is thought to see, his want of understanding.—Jermin.
It has been safely enough alleged that of two men equally successful in the business of life, the man who is silent will be generally deemed to have more in him than the man who talks: the latter “shows his hand;” everybody can tell the exact length of his tether; he has trotted himself out so often that all his points and paces are a matter of notoriety. But of the taciturn man, little or nothing is known. “The shallow murmur but the deep are dumb.” Friends and acquaintances shake their heads knowingly, and exclaim with an air of authority, that “So and so” has a great deal more in him than people imagine. They are as often wrong as right, but what need that signify to the silent man?… To follow out one of the Caxtonian essayist’s illustrations,—When we see a dumb strong-box, with its lid braced down by iron clasps and secured by a jealous padlock, involuntarily we suppose that its contents must be infinitely more precious than the gauds and nicknacks which are unguardedly scattered about a lady’s drawing-room. “Who could believe that a box so rigidly locked had nothing in it but odds and ends, which would be just as safe in a bandbox?”—Jacox.