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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Proverbs 14

Verses 1-35

Sin and Its Mockers

Proverbs 14:9

It is one thing to mock in such a fashion as that the sinning person shall say, 'This thing which the mirror holds up to me is base, contemptible, unprofitable, and I will henceforth abjure it'; and another thing to laugh in such a fashion as to make him imagine 'This thing is trivial, it is of no serious import whatsoever, and I will therefore conduct myself as I like. The first kind of mockery is the austere, if somewhat cynical, expression of moral indignation; the second is the light, flippant sneer of moral indifference.

I. And this scoffing indifference, this tendency to levity in men's views and speeches and whole mental attitude to sin, when and how is it manifested?

1. It is manifested in those who make a mock at the facts and realities of sin. This is the most obvious and direct shape which the temptation assumes, and it exhibits itself in various directions. Take, for instance, literature. Take conversation.

2. It is possible to manifest the same tendency by making a mock at the reprovers of sin.

3. Take another phase of the self-same tendency. It appears, does it not, in the case of those who mock at the fear of sin?

4. The kind of mocking that associates itself with the thought of the powers and the agencies of sin.

II. Note certain obvious reasons why those who mock at it are fools:

1. They are fools because blind to their own real interests. Safety is at stake. Self-preservation is at stake. Those who mock at sin are most apt to become the prey of sin.

2. Because blind to the teaching of all observation and experience. Consider what sin has wrought, consider what sin is working still; and apart from the tremendous revelations of Scripture, you may see enough round about to make you tremble, rather than scoff.

3. The man who mocks at sin is infatuated not only because blind to the interests of self and blind to the teachings of experience, but because blind to the lessons of the Cross of Christ.

W. A. Gray, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. II. p. 573.

Making Light of Sin

Proverbs 14:9

When we think of all the unhappiness sin causes, and of all the misery of which it is the parent, we might deem it to be a thing incredible that any person should make light of sin. Sin is the great power that makes for loneliness, as it is the power everywhere that makes for wreckage; and in the light of that knowledge, which is common property, to make a mock at sin might seem impossible. Still more might it seem to be impossible when we recall the teaching of our faith. If Christ has shown us what God thinks of goodness, He has also shown us what God thinks of sin. And the one fact that the Father gave the Son that He might die for sinners on the cross, might be thought to make such mockery incredible. Yet the fact remains that men do mock at sin. They treat it lightly and make a jest of it. They do not view it with that holy anger which is the constant attitude of God. Alive in a measure, as they all must be, to the handiwork of sin in human life, they are not moved by it as God is moved, nor stirred by it profoundly as was Jesus.

We see that, for instance, in the matter of confession, in the confession of our sins in prayer. No part of prayer is less real to most men than the part which voices the confession of sin.

Again we gather this prevailing lightness from the kind of way in which men talk of sin. They speak of it with a smile or with a jest, and cover it up under some pleasant name. When a man is dead in earnest in a matter you can generally infer it from his speech. When a man is dead in earnest in a matter it is then he begins to call a spade a spade. And the very fact that in men's common speech sin is not spoken of with such directness, is a straw that shows us how the wind is blowing.

Again we may gather how lightly men think of sin from the different standards by which they judge it. Sin is a very different thing in us, from what it is in the lives of other people.

Well, then, if that be the fact, can we discover the causes of that fact? There are some reasons which suggest themselves at once, and I shall mention one or two of them.

I. In the first place, men treat sin lightly just because they are so accustomed to it. It is so common that their hearts are hardened; so universal that they are never startled.

II. Again we are tempted to make light of sin because of its intertwining with the good. In deeper senses than the Psalmist thought of, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. If all that was bad in individual character stood by itself in visible isolation, then as we looked at a man and praised the good in him, we might feel the loathsomeness of what was bad. But human character is not constructed so, with separate stations for its good and evil: it is an intricate and inextricable tangle of what is brightest with what is very dark. Then I beheld, says Bunyan in his dream, and there was a way to hell from nigh the gate of heaven. I think that that is so with every man: his heaven and hell are never far apart.

III. Once more men are tempted to make light of sin because it veils its consequences with such consummate skill. Sin is the jauntiest of all adventurers, and sets its best foot forward gallantly. The certainty of sin is always this, that its tomorrow is a little worse. And so with consummate skill it hides tomorrow, and says in the very words of Christ today, and today is so exquisitely sweet and passionate that certainties of judgment are forgotten.

IV. Again, many make light of sin because no one knows sin's power till he resists it. It is a natural law in the spiritual world that power can be measured by resistance. Only when the life of grace begins, and a man awakes to all that life may be, does he learn the powerful swirl of that black river that flows in the dark places of his heart.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 214.

References. XIV. 9. C. Wordsworth, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 157. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Esther, Job, Proverbs, etc., p. 181. XIV. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2079. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 15. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 266. XIV. 12. Ibid. p. 268. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii. p. 50.

Laughter and Sorrow

Proverbs 14:13

I. The difference between outward and inward life.

Even in laughter, says Solomon, the heart is sorrowful. He is thinking of the duality of life.

You will not grasp the influence of Jesus, in all its wonderful impact on mankind, unless you bear in mind this strange duality. Under all outward seeming our Lord discerned the struggle of the heart; He was never misled by laughter or by speech; He never ignored all that we cannot utter.

II. Sorrow and joy are strangely knit together. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful. There is a mystical union between our smiles and tears.

We see this in the lives of our greatest men, for instance. It is one of the lessons we learn from great biographies. The greatest are very seldom solemn, and certainly they are almost never joyless. True joy is not the mere escape from sorrow. It may be that the capacity for gladness is but the other side of the capacity for pain.

We find this also in our own greatest moments, when the fire of life flashes up in some fierce intensity. When the heart throbs, and feeling is enkindled, and every nerve is quivering with emotion, we scarcely know if we are sorry or glad. It is a master-touch of our master dramatist that in the very heart of his tragedies you will have some fool or jester. It means far more than a mere relief from the agony; it means that the light and the shadow are akin. There have come moments to every one of us, when sorrow and joy were strangely knit together.

And do you not think that is true of Jesus Christ? It is one of the mysteries of that perfect life. He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Yet through it all, and in the midst of it, our adorable Lord is talking of His joy.

III. Sorrow lies nearer to the heart of life than joy. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful: at the back of all there is the heart's unrest.

I think that even language bears this out; and language becomes very illuminative when we study it. We never talk about a heavy joy: we only talk about a heavy grief. Happiness bubbles up or ripples over; there is some suggestion of the surface in it. But sorrow is heavy, and what that implies is this, that when God casts it into the sea of life it sinks by its own weight into the deeps.

Unless this proverb of Solomon prove itself true, the cross is not life's true interpretation. In the centre of history stands the cross of Calvary, and the cross is the epitome of woe. And if life's deepest secret be gladness and not sorrow, if laughter runs deeper into the heart than tears, then the cross, that professes to touch the deepest depths, can be nothing but a tragical mistake. I do not think that we have found it so. I do not think that the cross has ever failed us. The deepest music that our heart ever uttered has blended and chimed with the sad strain of Calvary.

G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 43.

References. XIV. 13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Esther, Job, Proverbs, etc., p. 187.


Proverbs 14:14

'A good man shall be satisfied from himself.' Then there can be a noble kind of self-satisfaction. There is a self-satisfaction which is repellent, an offensive form of conceit. This species of self-satisfaction must be altogether removed from our minds when we seek the interpretation of our text.

I. It is a very natural expectation that kindness should meet with the return of gratitude. We say there is some satisfaction in doing kindnesses if they are received by grateful hearts. But oftentimes the gratitude is withheld, and we are profoundly dissatisfied. Let us take the counsel of the text, and when gratitude is lacking, let us retire into our own hearts, and find satisfaction in the kindness itself. An act is more and finer than its consequences. God 'is kind to the unthankful'.

II. It seems to be a most fitting thing that duty should culminate in comfort. But we are confronted with the fact that comfort is not always the crown of duty. There are many people who are scrupulous and conscientious, but their sky is overcast. Their way abounds in thorns. What is the meaning of it all? Is it not intended to throw us back upon the true wealth, to urge us to seek our satisfaction not in the comfort that duty may bring, but in the duty itself? That is a very elevated word of the Psalmist 'I delight to do Thy will'.

III. The great principle has other applications. Let this one suffice. If there be any who are workers for the Lord, and who are cast down and disquieted because of apparently fruitless toil, get back into the consciousness of honest work honestly done, and you shall find the brightness there. 'Light is sown for the righteous.' 'A good man shall be satisfied from himself.'

J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 26.

References. XIV. 14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Esther, Job, Proverbs, etc., p. 191. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 272. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1235. XIV. 15. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 275. XIV. 21. A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 300. XIV. 25. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 278. XIV. 26. Ibid. p. 282. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1290. XIV. 30. A. W. Hutton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 348. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 286. XIV. 31. Ibid. p. 289. XIV. 32. Ibid. p. 294. XIV. 34. J. Ossian Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 280. J. G. Greenhough, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1894, 314. J. Milne, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 135. XV. 1. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 163. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 299. XV. 3, 11. Ibid. p. 304. XV. 4. Ibid. p. 313. XV. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 177. XV. 13. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 318. XV. 14, 21. Ibid. p. 323. XV. 16, 17, 27. Ibid. p. 332. XV. 17. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 123. XV. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1948. XV. 23. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 217. XV. 31. Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 199. XV. 33. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 328. XVI. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 849. W. C. Magee, Sermons at St. Saviour's, Bath, p. 184. A. W. Potts, School Sermons, p. 109. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Esther, Job, Proverbs, etc., p. 195. XVI. 2, 3. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 338. XVI. 6. Ibid. p. 344. F. D. Maurice, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, p. 185. XVI. 7. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 1423. XVI. 9. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 348. XVI. 16. Ibid. p. 357. XVI. 17. Ibid. p. 360. J. Fraser, Parochial and Other Sermons, p. 208. XVI. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 392. XVI. 22. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 364. XVI. 22, 33. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Esther, Job, Proverbs, etc., p. 204. XVI. 32. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 456. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 61. C. Silvester Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 36; see also ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 25. XVI. 33. T. Templeton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 138. Ambrose Shepherd, ibid. vol. lxix. 1906, p. 249. XVII. 12. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 368. XVII. 15. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii. p. 67. XVII. 17. W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, p. 376. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 899. H. H. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 344. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 179. A. E. Hutchinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 358. R. Winterbotham, Sermons Preached in Holy Trinity Chapel, Edinburgh, p. 25. XVII. 20. A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 210.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.