Proverbs Chapter Twenty-one
Commentary on Proverbs 21:1
(Read Proverbs 21:1)
The believer, perceiving that the Lord rules every heart as he sees fit, like the husbandman who turns the water through his grounds as he pleases, seeks to have his own heart, and the hearts of others, directed in his faith, fear, and love.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:2
(Read Proverbs 21:2)
We are partial in judging ourselves and our actions.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:3
(Read Proverbs 21:3)
Many deceive themselves with a conceit that outward devotions will excuse unrighteousness.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:4
(Read Proverbs 21:4)
Sin is the pride, the ambition, the glory, the joy, and the business of wicked men.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:5
(Read Proverbs 21:5)
The really diligent employ foresight as well as labour.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:6
(Read Proverbs 21:6)
While men seek wealth by unlawful practices, they seek death.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:7
(Read Proverbs 21:7)
Injustice will return upon the sinner, and will destroy him here and for ever.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:8
(Read Proverbs 21:8)
The way of mankind by nature is froward and strange.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:9
(Read Proverbs 21:9)
It is best to shun bitter contention by pouring out the heart before God. For by prudence and patience, with constant prayer, the cross may be removed.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:10
(Read Proverbs 21:10)
The evil desires of a wicked man's heart, lead to baseness in his conduct.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:11
(Read Proverbs 21:11)
The simple may be made wise by punishments on the wicked, and by instructions to those who are willing to be taught.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:12
(Read Proverbs 21:12)
Good men envy not the prosperity of evil-doers; they see there is a curse on them.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:13
(Read Proverbs 21:13)
Such as oppress the poor by beating down wages, such as will not relieve according to their ability those in distress, and those in authority who neglect to do justice, stop their ears at the cry of the poor. But doubtless care is to be used in the exercise of charity.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:14
(Read Proverbs 21:14)
If money can conquer the fury of the passions, shall reason, the fear of God, and the command of Christ, be too weak to bridle them?
Commentary on Proverbs 21:15
(Read Proverbs 21:15)
There is true pleasure only in the practice of religion.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:16
(Read Proverbs 21:16)
Of all wanderers in the ways of sin, those are in the most dangerous condition who turn aside into the ways of darkness. Yet there is hope even for them in the all-sufficient Saviour; but let them flee to him without delay.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:17
(Read Proverbs 21:17)
A life of worldly pleasure brings ruin on men.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:18
(Read Proverbs 21:18)
The righteous is often delivered out of trouble, and the wicked comes in his stead, and so seems as a ransom for him.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:19
(Read Proverbs 21:19)
Unbridled passions spoil the comfort of all relations.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:20
(Read Proverbs 21:20)
The plenty obtained by prudence, industry, and frugality, is desirable. But the foolish misspend what they have upon their lusts.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:21
(Read Proverbs 21:21)
True repentance and faith will lead him that relies on the mercy of God in Christ, to follow after righteousness and mercy in his own conduct.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:22
(Read Proverbs 21:22)
Those that have wisdom, often do great things, even against those confident of their strength.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:23
(Read Proverbs 21:23)
It is our great concern to keep our souls from being entangled and disquieted.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:24
(Read Proverbs 21:24)
Pride and haughtiness make men passionate; such continually deal in wrath, as if it were their trade to be angry.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:25,26
(Read Proverbs 21:25,26)
Here is the misery of the slothful; their hands refuse to labour in an honest calling, by which they might get an honest livelihood; yet their hearts cease not to covet riches, pleasures, and honours, which cannot be obtained without labour. But the righteous and industrious have their desires satisfied.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:27
(Read Proverbs 21:27)
When holiness is pretended, but wickedness intended, that especially is an abomination.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:28
(Read Proverbs 21:28)
The doom of a false witness is certain.
Commentary on Proverbs 21:29
(Read Proverbs 21:29)
A wicked man bids defiance to the terrors of the law and the rebukes of Providence. But a good man asks, What does God require of me?
Commentary on Proverbs 21:30,31
(Read Proverbs 21:30,31)
Means are to be used, but, after all, our safety and salvation are only of the Lord. In our spiritual warfare we must arm ourselves with the whole armour of God; but our strength must be in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Proverbs》
 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
The kings — He names kings not to exclude other men, but because they are more arbitrary and uncontrollable than others.
As rivers — Which husband-men draw by little channels into the adjacent grounds as they please.
 An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
The plowing — Even their civil or natural actions, which in themselves are lawful, are made sinful as they are managed by ungodly men, without any regard to the glory of God, which ought to be the end of all our actions.
 The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.
Hasty — Who manages his affairs rashly.
 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.
Lying tongue — By any false or deceitful words or actions.
Is tossed — Is like the chaff or smoak driven away by the wind.
Of them — That take those courses which will bring destruction upon them.
 The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.
The way — Of every man by nature.
Strange — Estranged from God.
Right — But he whose heart is pure, his conversation is agreeable to it.
 The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes.
Desireth — To do mischief.
No favour — He spares neither friend nor foe.
 When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.
The wise — The simple learn wisdom, both from the punishment of wicked men, and from the prosperity of good men.
 The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.
Considereth — He looks through its present glory to that ruin for which it is designed.
 A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.
In secret — Which makes it more acceptable.
In the bosom — Secretly conveyed into the bosom.
 The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
Shall remain — Shall, without repentance, be condemned to eternal death.
 He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
Wine and oil — Delicious fare and luxurious feasting. Wine and oil were much used in feasts in those parts.
 The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.
A ransom — The wicked shall be brought into those troubles, which were designed by wicked men for the righteous: thus Haman was a ransom for Mordecai.
 There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.
The wise — Wise men lay up desirable treasures for their own use, and for their families. Oil is particularly mentioned, because that was a considerable part of their wealth and treasures in those countries.
 A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.
The strength — The strongest sorts to which the citizens trust.
 The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.
Killeth — Torments him to death, while he passionately desires what he sees, he shall not enjoy, and will not take pains to procure.
 He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.
Coveteth — Spends his whole time in vain and lazy desires.
Giveth — By God's blessing upon his industry he procures enough, not only for his own support, but for the relief of others.
 The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?
The sacrifice — All the most costly services which they offer to God.
Because — As all the ancient translators render it, the Hebrew particle, aph, being expletive: or, even because; so the following clause gives the reason.
A wicked mind — Not in obedience to God's command, but either to cover, or countenance, or promote some wicked design.
 A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.
Heareth — He witnesses nothing but what he has heard or seen.
Constantly — Always affirms the same thing.
 A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.
Hardeneth — Continues in evil with obstinacy and impudence.
Directs — He orders his steps aright.
 The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.
The horse — Under which all war-like provisions are comprehended.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Proverbs》
”The boneless tongue, so small and weak
Can crush and kill,” declared the Greek.
The Persian proverb wisely saith:
“A lengthy tongue, an early death.”
Sometimes it takes this form instead:
“Don’t let your tongue cut off your head.”
While Arab sages this impart:
“The tongue’s great storehouse is the heart.”
From Hebrew wit the maxim’s sprung:
“Though feet should slip, don’t let the tongue.”
A verse in Scripture crowns the whole:
“Who keeps the tongue doth keep his soul.”
21 Chapter 21
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.
God and the human race
In these verses we have God unfolded to us.
I. As the controller of human hearts. Some suppose there is an allusion to the gardener directing the rills of water through the different parts of his ground, and that the comparison is between the ease with which the gardener does this and the ease with which the Almighty controls the purposes and volitions of the human soul.
1. This is an undoubted fact. A priori reasoning renders this obvious. The God of infinite wisdom must have a purpose to answer in relation to the existence and history of the human race. He has a purpose not only in the rise and fall of empires, but in all the events that happen in the individual history of the obscure as well as the illustrious. But unless He has a control over the workings of the human heart and the volitions of the human soul, how could this purpose be realised? If He controls not the thoughts and impulses of the human mind, He has no control over the human race, and His purposes have no guarantee for their fulfilment.
2. This fact interferes not with human responsibility. Though the Creator has an absolute control over all the workings of our minds, yet we are conscious that we are free in all our volitions and actions. Though the reconciliation of these two facts transcends our philosophy, they involve no absurdity.
II. As the judge of human character. There is a connection between the second and first verses. The connection suggests--
1. That God judges men’s characters, not according to their own estimate. Men generally are so vain that they form a high opinion of themselves, but this estimate may be the very reverse of God’s.
2. That God judges men’s characters not according to the result of their conduct. Though they may unwittingly work out His plans, they do not approve themselves to Him on that account.
3. That God judges men’s characters by the heart. The essence of the character is in the motive.
III. As the approver of human goodness (Proverbs 21:3). Sacrifice, at best, is only circumstantially good--rectitude is essentially so. Sacrifice, at best, is only the means and expression of good--rectitude is goodness itself. God accepts the moral without the ceremonial, but never the ceremonial without the moral. The universe can do without the ceremonial, but not without the moral. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
God rules the hearts of men
General Gordon had an Arab text inscribed over his throne in the Palace of Khartoum--“God rules over the hearts of men.”
To do Justice and Judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Ceremonial and moral duties
This text is a complete and independent sentence. Confirm the proposition deduced from the text--
I. From other places of Scripture. We find God rejecting and abhorring sacrifices if they were not accompanied with a real repentance and inward sincerity of mind, and the outward works of mercy and justice (Proverbs 21:27; Micah 6:6-7; Isaiah 1:11).
II. From the different nature of these two duties, and the different grounds from whence ariseth our obligation to them. Sacrifice was grounded upon a positive precept and institution, but justice has its foundation in the nature of God. If we consult merely natural light, we shall discover no necessary foundations in that for sacrifices. As the notion of God includes in it all possible and conceivable perfection, we discern justice to be one of His most essential attributes.
III. From the different ends of these two duties. Sacrifice was not enjoined for its own sake, but justice always was, and is, and ever will be. Sacrifices were ordained to be types of Christ, who was to be offered up in the fulness of time upon the Cross. Sacrifices were enjoined to be as a guard and security for other duties, to be as a hedge and a fence for the moral precepts, and especially to defend the Jews against idolatry. Evidently the goodness of this duty of sacrifice was not natural and intrinsical, but relative and external. But justice was, and is, and ever will be, enjoined for its own sake. It has a natural goodness and beauty in it which, at all times, and in all ages, recommends it to the practice of mankind. Justice is a duty that ariseth from the moral frame and constitution of our souls, and we must offer violence to ourselves, if we be not just to others.
IV. From the different effects of these two duties. The effect of sacrifices was the expiation of legal guilt. For deeper guilt no sacrifices were appointed. It is otherwise in the distribution of justice. An impartial execution of that in magistrates and judges does not only put a stop to the growth and increase of sin, but it also appeaseth the wrath and disarms the severity of God. (William Stainforth, M. A.)
The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness.
Diligence, while it is opposed to laziness, is opposed also to rashness--to premature and inconsiderate haste. The diligent man first plans and then acts. He proceeds thoughtfully and systematically. Diligence can effect little, unless accompanied with careful forethought. Diligence means steady perseverance in execution. The projects of the attentive, plodding, persevering man, who begins in earnest and goes on to the end in earnest, prepared for difficulties, are those that promise to produce, and generally do produce, a favourable result. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity.
I. The evil of dishonesty.
1. A breach of the law of God.
2. An invasion of the Divine right of property.
3. An encouragement to indolence. The workshop is one of the finest fields for human development.
4. A certain development of selfishness.
5. A weapon for the destruction of mutual confidence. Men cannot trust those who are watching for opportunities to defraud them.
II. The remedy for dishonesty.
1. A renewed nature. The Spirit of truth dwelling in a man will make war against all dishonesty.
2. A sensitive conscience. Petty pilfering will deaden conscience with respect to this and all other sins (1 Timothy 4:2).
3. A realisation of the dignity of labour.
4. A due estimate of the value of human possessions.
5. A consciousness of the Divine presence and oversight.
6. A remembrance of the damaging nature of property dishonestly acquired (Proverbs 21:7). An act of theft often destroys self-respect, peace of mind, bodily health, and the soul itself. (H. Thorne.)
The way of man is froward and strange; but as for the pure, his work is right.
I. The nature of the man of God. It is pure. It is a grand thing to be clean in character. Take care that your words are clean. The very looks of a man of God are pure. The word “pure” implies that there is no wrong mixture in the composition of the righteous man. The nature of the pure man is genuine. The pure man is one who acts according to rule. He carries that rule in his conscience.
II. The nature of the work of the man of God. It is right, and therefore reliable. The man of God works as faithfully behind your back as before your face. He is always ready for any good work. His work is for the benefit of others. The man who sincerely desires to be pure in his motives and life is upheld by Divine power. The man of God has an inward source of happiness which does not depend on outward things. (W. Birch.)
The works of the righteous
A Christian is like the rose that drinks the dew as the sunbeam opens all its folds, then sheds a grateful fragrance on the wings of every gentle breeze which blows across it. Like also the rose, which spreads its varied colours to the sight of each beholding eye, proclaiming thus His glory; the glory of Him who sustains the shining sun, and sends refreshing morn and evening dew. So, the believer drinking of the flowing streams of love Divine, the heart-cheering promises of grace, with generous heart and bounteous hand, diffuses blessings like a fragrance around him, and blesses the place where he dwells. (H. G. Salter.)
Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
The cry of the poor
I. Social distress. “The cry of the poor.” The poor may be divided into two classes.
1. The deserving. There is a poverty that comes on men by circumstances over which they have no control: infirm bodies, diseased faculties, social oppression, untoward events. Such poverty is often associated not only with great intelligence, but with virtue and piety of a high order.
2. The undeserving.
II. Social heartlessness. “Whoso stoppeth his ears.”
1. The wealthy.
2. The legislating. In the name of heaven, what is the good of a government if it cannot overcome pauperism?
III. Social retribution. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
An unmerciful disposition
1. We may always expect, both in general society and in the Church of God, “the rich and poor to meet together.” Wherever there has been property it has been in various portions; and were there an equal division of property to-day, there would be a difference to-morrow. There are varieties of poverty; for poverty is a relative and comparative term. And among the indigent and dependent poor there are also varieties--the industrious and the indolent; the sober and the intemperate; the virtuous and the vicious, the deserving and the undeserving.
2. Nothing can be of greater consequence than marking this distinction, and regulating our charity accordingly. There is a “stopping of the ears” that is at times a virtue--requiring an effort of self-denying principle in opposition to the mere emotion and impulse of present pity. Charity must be exercised judiciously.
3. The sin here reproved is an unmerciful disposition; unfeeling hardness of heart; pitiless, avaricious, griping selfishness. This may be exemplified in beating down the wages of the poor labourer and artisan; in the denial of protection to the poor when it is pleaded for against oppression, and when we have it in our power to afford it. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
It is joy to the just to do Judgment.
The pleasure of doing right
The text virtually says, When good magistrates discharge their trust faithfully, and execute justice impartially, all honest and good men are greatly rejoiced at it, but it brings a sore terror and consternation upon the workers of iniquity.
I. It is a great pleasure to a just man to do justice.
1. Because it is acting according to his own inclinations. It is always pleasant to a man to pursue the natural or habitual inclinations of his mind. Even evil and naughty inclinations make it pleasant in some degree for the time to act according to them.
2. Because he knows that he does well in so doing, and that his action is approved by Almighty God.
3. Because of the assured hope it gives him of God’s favour, who is evermore a lover and rewarder of the upright.
4. Because it is a high honour done him by Almighty God to be employed in doing part of His work. For it is God that is the great doer of justice to all His creatures.
II. It is a great pleasure to the spectators, if they be righteous and good men, to see good magistrates faithfully discharging their duty in the execution of justice.
1. Because this is a thing so very necessary and so beneficial to mankind.
2. There are some particular eases wherein it is more especially a pleasant thing to do justice or to see it well done.
III. The execution of justice is terrible to evil-doers. It must needs be so, since it is they who suffer by it.
IV. Injustice and wickedness will most certainly bring a man to ruin without repentance. In this world it cannot otherwise be but some will escape from justice, as it is executed by men. There is One above whom no man can deceive, none can bribe, who will not fail to do right to all. This doctrine will afford us motives sufficient to the duties which all or any of us are now called to.
1. To choose such a magistrate as we believe will be faithful to the trust reposed in him.
2. To discharge the great trust of magistracy accordingly, and so as to answer the hopes and expectations of good men.
3. To be aiding and assisting in the doing thereof, which is every one’s duty as he has ability and opportunity.
4. To behave ourselves so that a good magistrate faithfully discharging his trust may be no terror, but a joy and comfort to us. (Samuel Barton, D. D.)
The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
The wanderer’s gloomy state
I. What is meant by “wandering out of the way of understanding”? The book of nature and of providence is the way of understanding. This book was opened to all the heathen world, but from it they most shamefully wandered. Their philosophers erred most grossly. They wandered in following the vile affections of their own depraved hearts. Another way of understanding is the book of revelation. This was committed to the Jews as a separate and distinct people. But how much they wandered from it! Their teachers wandered from the doctrines and duties which they knew. We have the book of revelation complete, but there are those who never read the Scriptures, and there are many who wander from their precepts, preferring their own flattering conceits to the truth of God. The Bible may properly be called “the way of understanding,” because it contains all we need to know of God our maker, of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and of the Holy Ghost our teacher, sanctifier, guide, and comforter. Where pure and public worship is performed, there is the way of understanding.
II. The wanderer’s gloomy state. “The congregation of the dead” means that vast assembly which is made up of all who are dead in trespasses and sins. This is called “spiritual death.” It implies the prevalence of sin in the soul. Eternal death is the separation of soul and body, the whole man, from all heavenly possessions and enjoyments for ever; and the sensation of all misery in hell--misery in full measure, without mixture, intermission, or end. (Edward Phillips.)
He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man.
The love of pleasure
Here is the secret of the failure of nine-tenths of our unsuccessful young men. They loved pleasure and gave themselves up to its pursuit, and so they have never got on, and never will. When poverty comes as the result of idleness and sloth and self-indulgence, it is both a curse and a shame. Poverty is, of course, a relative term. A leading business man says that only three out of every hundred who enter upon mercantile life become ultimately successful. The failures are largely due to causes that are within the young men’s own control. Some young men fail through trying to acquire money by any other means than good honest work; and when a young fellow once gets on this line of rail you may say he is done for. Some remain poor because they lack business capacity. Others fail through sheer downright laziness; others through mistaking their calling, others through instability or lack of originality and enterprise. Some through extravagant sanguineness and boastfulness. What does the wise man mean by “pleasure”? We are all so constituted that the love of happiness is both a necessity of our nature and a positive duty. There is no truer index of character than the kind of object or pursuit that affords us our intensest pleasure. The word “pleasure” is often used in the Bible in a distinctly evil sense, as denoting voluptuousness and carnality. The text reads in the margin “He that loveth sport shall be a poor man.” Certain forms of “sport” in moderation are perfectly legitimate. But incalculable mischief is being wrought amongst our young men by a too great fondness for sports and amusements. The inordinate craving for excitement has much to do with the ruin of some young men. It has been the same in every age, but we should have learned more wisdom by this time of day. (Thain Davidson, D. D.)
Self-indulgence source of poverty
Self-indulgence is prevalent amongst all classes.
I. It involves an extravagance of expenditure. Pleasure is an expensive divinity. The largest fortunes must often be laid upon its altar.
II. It involves a fostering of laziness. The self-indulgent man becomes such a lover of ease that effort of any kind becomes distasteful; the spirit of industry forsakes him. “He that loveth pleasure, shall be a poor man; he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.” But whilst it is true that self-indulgence leads to material poverty, it also leads to intellectual poverty. The man who would get his soul strong in holy resolves and righteous principles must agonise to enter in at the strait gate of habitual reflection, holy labour and earnest worship. This the self-indulgent man will not do. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Moderation in pleasure
Let not your recreations be lavish spenders of your time; but choose such which are healthful, short, transient, recreative, and apt to refresh you; but at no period dwell upon them, or make them your great employment; for he that spends his time in sports, and calls it recreation, is like him whose garment is all made of fringes, and his meat nothing but sauces: they are healthless, chargeable, and useless. And, therefore, avoid such games which require much time or long attendance, or which are apt to steal thy affections from more severe employments. For, to whatsoever thou hast given thy affections, thou wilt not grudge to give thy time. Natural necessity teaches us that it is lawful to relax and unbend our bow, but not to suffer it to be unready or unstrung. (Jeremy Taylor.)
It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and an angry woman.
An angry woman
I. No social discomfort is to be compared to that of an ill-tempered wife. A corner of the housetop would be exposed to the rain and to the storm, both of which, in Eastern countries, are generally of a violent character. Neither is the wilderness a pleasant place of abode. But it is better to dwell in either of these places than with a brawling or even with an angry woman.
1. Because one might enjoy intervals of repose.
2. Because, whatever may be the discomforts of a housetop or wilderness dwelling, they may leave the soul at rest. They can but reach the body, and the mind may be so absolutely calm or absorbed in thought as to be almost unconscious of what is passing without.
II. External good-fortune is no proof against this domestic curse. The “wide house” or the “house of companionship” suggests a goodly mansion. (W. Harris.)
There is treasure to be desired . . . in the dwelling of the wise.
Treasure in the house; or proverbs of home-life
One simple Saxon word has talismanic power over every heart. That word is “home.” Who of us can forget our home and home-life in the past? We are now what our mothers made us in that far-off time of childhood. Great are the responsibilities of home-life, for it is the seedtime of the eternal harvest. God Himself instituted the family relationship as one of His antidotes for Satan’s various enticements. Terrible is the vengeance God exacts for the violation of His laws of love. Education cannot be confined to the school, academy, or college. The true educators are the street and the home. God has given to parents a mighty instrument for good in the family relationship. But home-life and home-lessons will avail little without home-love. And there should be real and attractive pleasures by the fireside and round the home-table. Obedience, truth, and love will give us treasure in the house, and will clothe us with the ornaments of grace in our earthly homes. The same qualities of mind and temper exercised towards the great All-Father in heaven will make us meet for the house above, and lay up for us there treasures that shall never fail. (Wm. Stevens Perry, D. D.)
He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.
Righteousness and mercy
In every perfect character there will be found many opposite virtues, such as gentleness and courage, energy and patience, determination and docility, justice and mercy. We all respect the sterling worth of justice, yet justice alone would mark a defective character. It could be trusted, but not loved. Mercy alone would make one too weak. Love may lack the fidelity required to rebuke wrong, as is often seen in parental indulgence. Judicial laxity that sacrifices law, or military inefficiency that ignores discipline, are other illustrations. The wider the government, the nobler the interests to be guarded, the more imperative the need of the union of law with love, truth with gentleness. It is important to notice that this union of apparently opposing virtues does not weaken, but really makes either the more impressive in action. The rebuke of a loving father is all the more effective on account of the affection that inspires it. Justice speaks all the more terribly from the lips of a tender judge. When Washington’s tears blot the order for Andre’s execution, the awful necessity of Andre’s doom is seen and felt at every camp-fire. In Jesus Christ we see the blending of these diverse qualities in a remarkable degree. Tender and gentle as He was, incarnate mercy, He uttered the most awful denunciations and threats of everlasting fire. The awfulness of future punishment is felt when we remember it is the “wrath of the Lamb”! This theme sheds light on certain problems of the Divine government. The universe needs a corner-stone, and human hopes an anchorage. These are found in God. The highest triumph of wisdom is seen in the harmony of diverse qualities. As our character approaches His, we can the better interpret the problems of His government that confound others. President Woolsey rightly marvels at the folly of men who legislate about the universe, pass judgment on sin and retribution, yet cannot govern their own homes, or agree on the principles of human legislation. A greater than Woolsey exclaims: “Behold the goodness and severity of God!” Christianity exhibits this union as an exclusive trait, one that commands at once the hearts and the consciences of men. At the Cross of Christ justice and mercy blend, righteousness and grace kiss each other. God is holy as well as loving. Grace makes righteousness sure and pardon free. So peace comes, for justice is not compromised in giving a pardon that we should wish to hide from righteousness. The gospel unites them in one display. We show these virtues at different times; here they appear in parallel glory. No human justice has risen to this conception, no philosophy has embodied these ideas. Grace comes to be the marvel and the loadstone of our hearts. (Arthur Mitchell, D. D.)
The true pursuit of mankind
I. Goodness is the object. “He that followeth after righteousness and mercy.”
1. We are to follow after this supremely.
2. We are to follow after this constantly. It must be pursued, not occasionally, but always; not on the Sundays, but on the weekdays as well.
II. Happiness is the attendant. Life stands for happiness. The unregenerate has no true life. The righteous man will be righteously dealt with. God has established such a connection between excellence and conscience that conscience must recognise it wherever it is seen. Happiness comes as goodness is pursued. Happiness never comes to a man when he seeks it as an end. It wells out of those activities which spring from generous self-obliviating love. The unselfish and the loving have ever been the truly happy men. Happiness is the end of the universe, but God has ordained that our happiness shall grow out of our goodness. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Religion is here presented in two aspects.
I. As a pursuit. Really to do what the text expresses implies--
1. A true estimate of the objects to be pursued. “Righteousness and mercy.” These are the two cardinal elements of moral excellence in all worlds, are essential to the well-being of all moral intelligences. To pursue them you must be impressed with their transcendent worth. Thus Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God,” etc.
2. Resolute perseverance. The pursuit of these cardinal blessings involves great difficulties. The world, the flesh, and the devil all obstruct the way.
II. As a realisation. He that thus successfully pursues “findeth life, righteousness, and honour.” Religion is its own reward. The good man is blessed in his deed.
1. The reward is a natural effect of the conduct. Holiness and happiness are inseparably united.
2. The reward agrees with the conduct. It grows out of it. “Life, righteousness, and honour”--these grow out of “righteousness and mercy”: the fruit is of the same kind as the seed. Man’s heavenly joys will not be grapes gathered from thorns but from the vine-tree of goodness, the True Vine. (Homilist.)
Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
The Christian governing his tongue
Instead of simply commanding with supreme authority that men should keep their mouths and tongues, he graciously condescends to annex reward and blessings for its own sake. “Keepeth his soul from troubles.” In keeping of God’s commandments there is great reward. In proportion as any faculty is important in the use and rightful application of it, so is the neglect of it an evil, and the result of its perversion fatal in the same degree. The government of the tongue, on this principle, assumes at once its due importance. Consider the benefits that must accrue to society from the judicious use of this powerful organ on the part of those who in God’s providence are fitted to exert influence over their fellows. Consider the Christian governing his tongue, with especial reference to the law and will of God. Of the ten commandments two are assigned, one in each table, to this needful admonition. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”; “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” A careless, unreflecting use of the holy name betrays a trifling and unstable heart. But with reference to his neighbour, the Christian has the greatest need of caution as to the government of his tongue. What irreparable injury a severe remark, whether carelessly or wickedly whispered against the character of another, is sure to produce. It may be our duty to speak to the prejudice of others, but we must always be very sure that the duty is clear. In cases where the conduct of our neighbour appears doubtful, we are bound to give him the benefit of that doubt, and to feel towards him, and to speak of him, accordingly. When a Christian is reviled and calumniated, how is he to act? He should “in patience possess his soul.” One topic remains--the responsible office of the tongue, employed in preaching the gospel of salvation to perishing sinners. (Thos. Nolan, M. A.)
An unbridled tongue
A furious horse needs a bridle to restrain its fierceness, and it seems the tongue of man needs more than a double bridle to keep it in from doing hurt. The wise man never ceases to admonish us about this point. As a high-spirited horse, if its fury is not curbed with a strong hand, will hurry its rider along, without regarding pits, or precipices, or deep waters, and expose him to extreme jeopardy of his life, so an unbridled tongue will make a man hateful to God and men, plunge him into contentions and debates, and expose his estate, and life, and credit, to extreme danger. Who is the man that wishes to enjoy a quiet and peaceable life? Let him set a guard over his mouth, and refrain his tongue from profaneness and corrupt communication, from railing and reviling, and all evil speaking, from foolish talking, and from inconvenient jesting. Let prudence and the fear of God stand continually like sentinels at the door of his lips. (George Lawson, D. D.)
Keeping the tongue
When trouble is brewing, keep still. When slander is getting on its legs, keep still. When your feelings are hurt, keep still till you recover from your excitement, at any rate. Things look differently through an unagitated eye. Silence is the most massive thing conceivable sometimes. It is strength in its very grandeur. It is like a regiment ordered to stand still in the mid fury of battle. To plunge in were twice as easy. The tongue has unsettled more ministers than small salaries ever did, or lack of ability.
The government of the tongue
I. Such a government is necessary. “Whoso keepeth his mouth and tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles.” What troubles come through an ungoverned tongue?
1. Troubles on self.
2. Troubles on others. An ungoverned tongue is like a river, whose embankments have given way, spreading disasters through a whole neighbourhood. In America the Indians strike a spark from flint and steel, and thus set fire to the dry grass, and the flames spread and spread until they sweep like a roaring torrent over a territory as large as England, and men and cattle have to flee for their lives. An unguarded word can produce a social conflagration greater far.
II. Such a government is practicable. The tongue is not an involuntary organ, an organ that works irrespective of the will, like the heart and lungs; it is always the servant of the mind; it never moves without volition. Heaven has endowed us with a natural sovereignty equal not only to the government of the tongue, but to all the lusts and passions that set it in motion. A finer manifestation of moral majesty you can scarcely have than in reticence under terribly exciting circumstances. (Homilist.)
The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.
Solomon attaches to it several evils.
I. Suicide. “The desire of the slothful killeth him.” The man who is too lazy to move his limbs or open his eyes is too lazy to have a “desire.” These desires kill him. There are several things that tend to kill such a man.
1. Ennui. This is what Byron calls “that awful yawn which sleep cannot abate.” In all life there is not a more crushing power than lassitude. It breeds those morbid moods that explain half the diseases of the rich.
2. Disappointment. Disappointment kills.
3. Envy. The slothful sees others succeed.
4. Poverty. Sloth fills our workhouses with paupers, our prisons with criminals, our army with recruits.
II. Greed. “He covereth greedily all the day long.” In the Paris French translation the words stand thus--“All the day long he does nothing but wish.” How very expressive at once of the unconquerable indolence and the fretful, envious, pining unhappiness of the sluggard!
III. Unrighteousness. “But the righteous giveth and spareth not.” This implies that the slothful are neither righteous nor generous. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.
The vanity of attempting to oppose God
One of the most formidable methods of attacking religion is to exhibit it as a contrivance fit for narrow geniuses and mean souls. One of the most proper means to establish irreligion is to represent it as suited to great and generous minds.
I. Consider the text is regard to worldly grandeur. We sometimes see those who are called grandees in the world resist God, pretend to compel Him by superior force, or by greater knowledge. How often is grandeur even now in our times a patent for insolence against God!
II. Worldly policy is a second obstacle which some men set against the laws of heaven. We sometimes see men forget that they are Christians, when they deliberate on the public good.
III. The voluptuous resist God. One of the most inviolable laws of God is, that felicity should be the reward of virtue, and misery the punishment of vice. What does a voluptuous man oppose against the execution of this law? Noise, company, diversions, the refinements of lasciviousness. Examine the system of the voluptuary at the bar of reason, and at the bar of conscience. Consider it in the declining time of life, and in view of death and punishment.
IV. A stoical obstinacy is an obstacle which some place against the purposes of God. Hath Zeno any disciples now? Yes, there are yet people who, under another name, maintain the same sentiments, affect an unshaken firmness, and glory in preserving their tranquillity under all the extremes of fortune. (J. Saurin.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》