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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 13

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verse 1


Proverbs 13:1. Instruction, or “correction.” The Hebrew is literally, “a wise son is his father’s correction,” i.e., is the product of his father’s correction; or “heareth” may be supplied to correspond to the verb in the second clause.



I. A condition implied. That the father who gives the instruction, or administers correction, is a wise father. There are many fathers who are incapable of instructing their children in the right way, because they do not walk in it themselves. The “father” of these proverbs is always pre-supposed to be one who is himself morally wise—one whose life is a practical exposition of the good instruction which he gives. The father who can only instruct with his lips, but not with his life, cannot expect to command respect and obedience. He is like a man who tries to save a vessel from sinking by baling out the water in bucketfuls, while he leaves the great leak-hole unplugged. All that which is done is more than neutralised by what is left undone. If a physician prescribes a certain medicine for a disease from which he is suffering himself, but for which he refuses to take the remedy, he will find that his patients will think, if they do not say, “Physician, heal thyself.” And children will not be slow to see if a father’s practice fails to endorse a father’s precept.

II. He who takes the advice of a morally wise father shows himself to be wise also. The greatest proof of wisdom is a willingness to learn of those who know more than we do. Other things being equal, a father must know more than a son, and the son who hears his instruction, and submits to his discipline, ot only uses the means by which to become wise, but shows that he is already wise enough to use the right means to attain a desirable end. Christians are the sons of God, if they are wise sons they will hear the instructions of their Father. They show their wisdom in proportion as they submit cheerfully to His discipline as to that of the “Only wise God” (1 Timothy 1:17).

III. He who will not listen to parental rebuke is in the last degree a sinner. We understand the last clause of this verse to refer likewise to a father and son. Parental instruction and correction are God’s ordained and special methods of training a human soul. There are many reasons why a parent’s rebuke should be regarded, if that of strangers is not listened to (see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 4:4, p. 53). He who disregards that must be considered in as hopeless a case as he who scuttles the lifeboat sent to save him. When the word of a good father or mother is not obeyed it is practically scorned, and a scorner is the most hopeless of sinners.


The language of this verse is capable of two meanings: either that hearing instruction and not hearing reproof are the effect and manifestation, respectively, of a wise or a scornful mind; this wise son showing himself to be so by “hearing his father’s instructions,” and the scorner showing himself to be so by “not hearing rebuke,” or (reversing cause and effect), that wisdom and scorning are the results, respectively, of hearing or not hearing instruction and rebuke. In other words—“The son that is instructed by his father turns out to be wise; he who receives no correction turns out a fool.” In the first of the two senses the admonition is chiefly to children—in the second, to parents.—Wardlaw.

Piety is the fruit of training. If a man is a believer, it is a sign he has had believing nurture; and if a scorner, it is a sign he has had “no rebuke.” This text reiterates the promise made to the training of a child. To treat it as in our English version is simply to evolve a truism, and might do very well, grammatically, if the verb were future, and not perfect. The idea embraces the solemn lesson, that Christians are not to be made without training.—Miller.

Or heareth and jeereth; as Lot’s sons-in-law, as Eli’s sons, and afterwards Samuel’s. Samuel succeeds Eli in his cross, as well as in his place, though not in his sin of indulgence. God will show that grace is by gift, and not by inheritance or education.—Trapp.

There is in the conscience of the scorner a hidden discouragement, and privy despair, both of pardon of his sinfulness, and possibility to leave it: and that doth exasperate him against such as shall be dealing with it. Who is willing to have his wound laid open to his disgrace and torment, when he taketh it to be altogether incurable?—Dod.

Verses 2-3


Proverbs 13:2. Shall eat, in the second clause, is supplied by the English translation. Many commentators render this clause “the delight of the ungodly is violence.” So Zöckler and Delitzsch. Miller translates the verse, “Out of the fair earnings of the mouth of a man a good man will get his food; but the appetite of the faithless out of robbery.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 13:2-3


The human tongue needs keeping, or guarding.

1. Because there is a tendency in men to speak as soon as they think. First thoughts are not always the fittest thoughts to be made public. It is always advisable to view them and review them in the light of our judgment before we give them utterance. Hence our tongue ought to be always “well in hand.”

2. Because when loosed it is a great power for evil as well as for good. It may bring much good to a man’s life. “A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth,” when his mouth brings forth good fruit—when “out of the good treasure of his heart he bringeth forth that which is good.” A tongue wisely used gives a man the respect and confidence of his fellow-men, yields him the satisfaction of having been a blessing to them (See Comments on chap. Proverbs 12:6; Proverbs 12:14). But a tongue which is uncontrolled is mischievous to others and to the man himself. “He that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” As we saw in chapter Proverbs 10:19, there is often a sin in much speaking. Such a tongue as that described in chapter Proverbs 2:12, or that in chapter Proverbs 12:18 (see Homiletics and Comments on those verses), destroy not only their victims but those to whom they belong. Such a tongue, the Apostle tells us, is “a fire, a world of iniquity: and is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).

3. Because it is the last stronghold which is brought under complete control to spiritual rule—the weak point in the spiritual man’s armour where the adversary’s arrow may enter. This we know from inspired authority. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). We have an example of its truth in the case of Moses. That man who was “meek above all men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3), forfeited his right of entrance into the earthly Canaan by an unguarded use of the tongue. The prayers of the Psalmist show us the importance which he attached to the keeping of this stronghold and the difficulty attending it, as well as the only sure means of safety, that of calling in Divine help. “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalms 141:3). Every morally wise man will make the resolve of David, “I will keep my mouth with a bridle,” not only “while the wicked is before me,” but at all times and in all places. Life is lost and won both in its higher and lower senses by not keeping the mouth.


Proverbs 13:2. The “mouth of a man” in that viva voce country, as formerly in our southern states, was the great instrument of a business man. He lived by giving orders. The mail conducts our business in our days. A false lip stood for all sorts of bad activity (Ecclesiastes 10:12). A good man will be satisfied to earn his living. The bad man, in some way or other, wants to steal it. But apace with this secular meaning is one that concerns the saints. The good man expects to fight for heaven; the lost man to get heaven by deceit (see rendering in Critical Notes). It is true the tendencies might seem reversed. The good man hails a work done for him, and expects a ransom without money and without price. The bad man would intersperse some struggles of his own. But, in fact, the Christian, though saved by grace, works the more for it; and, in fact, the sinner, rejecting grace and interposing his own works, is just the man expecting blessings without costs, and without any earnest toil. Not “eat good” (English version) but “a good man will eat” (get his food). “The earnings of the mouth.” No one can go into a great city now without noticing how much of men’s money they make by their mouth. The gainful merchants are talking all day long. No man can buy salvation; but he reaches it by hard labour, and partly by earnest speech.—Miller.

Although the spirit and practice of retaliation are nowhere vindicated in Scripture, but everywhere explicitly and strongly condemned: yet a treatment corresponding to their own treatment towards others is what everyone may expect, even independently of what deserves the name of retaliation. In the nature of things it cannot be otherwise. It is not in human nature, nor in any nature, not even in the Divine itself, to love (with the love of complacence) that which is unamiable. An amiable disposition alone can secure love; and it is greatly indicated by the tongue. The man who is charitable in his judgments, and disposed to speak well of others, will be himself the subject of charitable judgment, and of cordial commendation. Thus “he shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth.”—Wardlaw.

The mouth of a man doth blossom when he speaketh fairly and promiseth well, but then it beareth fruit when that is performed which is promised. And by this fruit it is, which though others eat, yet a man himself eateth good, as having his soul cheered and nourished by the comfort of it. But as for the soul of the perfidious and false dealers, who make a show to do a thing, and do quite the contrary, although they carry it slightly and without violence, yet violence shall seize upon them, either to compel them to a performance, or else to a just suffering for not performing, which will be bitter food.—Jermin.

Proverbs 13:3. Speech, though our great activity, gives us more toil in holding it back than in actually employing it. So activity, which it typically represents, is harder to hold than to promote. Religion is an every-day battle. He that is not conscious of it, has no true religion.—Miller.

“Keep thine heart” (chap. Proverbs 4:23). This guards the citadel. Keep thy mouth. This sets a watch at the gates. If they be well guarded the city is safe. Leave them unprotected—thus was Babylon taken.—Bridges.

No wonder that the Holy Ghost here labours so much for the reformation of the tongue; for the Apostle also (Romans 3:13, etc.), when giving an anatomy of human depravity in the members of the body, dwells more on the tongue than all the rest.—Cartwright, from Fausset.

Verse 4


Proverbs 13:4. Fat, i.e., abundantly satisfied.



I, The desires of the sluggard cannot be satisfied

1. Because they are contrary to the ordination of God. The Divine ordination is, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19), in other words, that reward shall be the result of labour. If a man is to have that which he desires, he must frame his desires in harmony with the law of the universe, or he must be disappointed. If men desire to bring about any material result they take care to work in harmony with physical law. He would be looked upon as a madman who expected to achieve anything by setting at nought the law of gravitation, for instance. It is quite as useless for men to desire to set aside God’s moral laws.

2. Because they are contrary to the practice of God. God, as we saw in homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 12:27, is a great worker. He desired to save man, but He used means to accomplish His desires, even means which involved the highest self-sacrifice. Shall man expect to realise his wishes without effort, when God “spared not His own Son” (Romans 8:32) to bring about the salvation of the world, when Christ “endured the cross” to attain “the joy set before Him?” (Hebrews 12:2).

3. Because they are unfair to his fellow-creatures. He desires to consume, but not to contribute to the general good; he wants to have the reward of the diligent without his toil. It would be unjust to the industrious to give to him for desiring what others gain by working. Therefore,

II. He wearies himself far more by his laziness than he would do by honest labour. If a man is constantly desiring and never having his desires fulfilled, his life must become a weariness to him. Fulfilled desires become an incentive to renewed activity—he who has reaped one harvest as a result of his labour is quickened to new energy to sow for another crop. The sluggard knows not the enjoyment which comes to the man who has worked hard for the reward which he now enjoys; he knows not what it is to enjoy rest and recreation, because true diligence only can give them any true relish. (See also Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 6:6-11 and Proverbs 12:24.)


The sluggard in religion desires to overcome his bad habits, to enjoy the happiness of God’s people. So far, well. Desires are a part of religion, There can be no attainment without them. Many have not even the desire, yet the sluggard hath nothing, because it is desire without effort. “Hell,” says an old writer, “is paved with such desires.”—Bridges.

Wishes and woulders are never good householders.—Muffet.

Doddridge says most people perish by laziness. Laziness is the attribute of a man who desires an object, but will not work for it. The impenitent desires heaven—nay longs for it—yea, confidently expects it (just as many a sluggard expects wealth), but religion never “turns up,” it never comes like game taken in the chase (chap. Proverbs 12:27), it is a solid product: we must stir up ourselves to take hold on God (Isaiah 64:7). With no exceptions, such as are on “change,” it is the “diligent soul” that “shall be made fat” and the yearning sluggard, at the very last, “has nothing.”—Miller.

The slothful man has one mighty objection against heaven, that he cannot make sure of it in a morning dream.—Lawson.

Labour is the original law of man’s nature. The fatigue and distress of labour, are, no doubt, the result of sin. Even in the garden of primeval innocence, it was by his “dressing” and “keeping” that everything was to thrive.—Wardlaw.

The sluggard would and he would not, he would have the end, but would not use the means; he would “sit at Christ’s right hand,” but he would not “drink of His cup,” or “be baptized with his baptism. Affection without endeavour is like Rachel, beautiful, but barren.… David, ravished with the meditation of the good man’s blessedness, presently conceives this desire and pursues it; not “Oh that I had this happiness,” but “Oh that I could use the means!” “Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes” (Psalms 119:4-5).—Trapp.

Verse 5


Proverbs 13:5. Lying, rather “deceit.” Stuart renders it “a false report.” Zöckler translates the latter clause of this verse, “the ungodly acteth basely and shamefully.” The translations of Stuart and Delitzsch are nearly the same. Miller reads the whole verse, “A deceiving business hates the righteous man, but also shames and disgraces the wicked.”



I. A righteous man hates lying.

1. Because it is contrary to his ruling disposition. His own righteous character has been created by believing the truth. His spiritual life is constantly renewed and sustained by believing the truth, and reducing his belief to practice. He is a child of the truth, and, therefore, apart from all the consequences of lying he instinctively abhors it.

2. He hates it also because of its evil influence upon men. Confidence in a lie ruined our first parents, and confidence in a lie has ruined whole nations and mighty empires in the past. In proportion as men “believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11) in the same proportion will be their ruin. The righteous man knows that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth (John 18:37), and as his great desire is to see that kingdom spread he must hate all that opposes it, and thus mars the happiness of the human race.

II. Wicked men are untruthful men. As the righteous man’s character is built by truth and upon truth, so that of an ungodly man is built upon false hood. All such men are the children of him who was a liar from the beginning, and although they may not be liars in the common acceptation of the word, there is a lack of truthfulness in the character of the most outwardly moral. In some shape or other he is a liar—he is a subject of him whose kingdom is built upon lying, and who could not retain under his influence a man who “hated lying” in every form and under every disguise. Such a man must come to shame. What would be the fate of a cripple if he were to challenge a man with sound limbs to run a race? Must he not be worsted in the end? Not more surely than will every subject of the kingdom whose foundation was laid in a lie. There is an Italian proverb which says, “A liar is sooner caught than a cripple.” If “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,” he who owns the lips must be an abomination also (see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:22).


Clear and round dealing is the honour of man’s nature; and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold or silver, which may make the metal work the better but embaseth it. For these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent, which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious; and, therefore, Montaigne sayeth prettily, when he inquired the reason why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge, “If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much as to say that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God and shrinks from man.”—Lord Bacon.

The natural man shuns lying and deceit on account of the outward shame and reproach; the pious abhors them with all his heart for God’s sake.—Starke, in Langes Commentary.

The allegiance of the soul to truth is tested by small things, rather than by those which are more important. There is many a man who would lose his life rather than perjnre himself in a court of justice, whose life is yet a tissue of small insincerities. We think that we are hating falsehood when we are only hating the consequences of falsehood. We resent hypocrisy and treachery, and calumny, not because they are untrue, but because they harm us. We hate the false calumny, but are half-pleased by the false praise. It is evidently not the element of untruth here that is displeasing, but the element of harmfulness. Now he is a man of integrity who hates untruth as untruth; who resents the smooth and polished falsehood of society, which does no harm; who turns in indignation from the glittering whitened lie of sepulchral Pharisaism which injures no one. Integrity recoils from deception, which men would almost smile to hear called deception. To a moral pure mind the artifices in every department of life are painful. The stained wood which passes for a more firm and costly material in a building, and deceives the eye by passing for what it is not—marble. The painting which is intended to be taken for reality; the gilding which is meant to pass for gold; and the glass which is worn to look like jewels; for there is a moral feeling and a truthfulness in architecture, in painting, and in dress, as well as in the market-place and in the senate, and in the judgment hall. “These are trifles.” Yes, these are trifles; but it is just these trifles which go to the formation of character. He that is habituated to deceptions and artificialities in trifles will try in vain to be true in matters of importance; for truth is a thing of habit rather than of will.… And it is a fearful question, and a difficult one, how all these things, the atmosphere of which we breathe in our daily life, may sap the very foundation of the power of becoming a servant of the truth.—F. W. Robertson.

It is not said that a righteous man never lies. David lied more than once, and yet he could say with truth that he abhorred lying. Though he lied to Abimelech the priest, and to the king of the Philistines, yet his fixed hatred of sin was an evidence of piety, to which those can lay no claim who never spoke a lie in their lives, if their abstinence from this sin was caused by some other motive than hatred.… God and men agree in almost nothing but this, that a liar is detestable to both, and therefore he must, sooner or later, come to disgrace.—Lawson.

The affections are of as great force in the service of God as the words and actions, and the heart hath no less place than the members of the body. It must be one and the principal agent in love, where they have calling; and it must deal alone with detestation of those abominations which they are discharged to intermeddle with.… Here we have instruction to inform our hearts against all manner of wickedness, that they may be the more incensed against it. The less we like sin the more righteous we are, and the better the Lord will love us. And the more agreement there is between sin and our souls, the less peace there is between our souls and God. All the hurts and miseries that have ever come upon us, or on Christ for our sakes, do give us just occasion to fall out with sinfulness, that hath been the cause thereof.—Dod.

Where grace reigns, sin is loathsome, where sin reigns the man is loathsome. Henry.

Verse 6


Proverbs 13:6. Sinner, literally “sin,” hence Miller reads “wickedness subverts the sin-offering,” and Zöckler “wickedness plungeth into sin.”



For Homiletics on the first clause of this verse see on chap. Proverbs 11:3; Proverbs 11:5-6.

I. The person overthrown—the sinner.

1. To be a sinner implies the existence of a law. Where there is no law there is no transgression. The sinner here spoken of is a transgressor against moral, Divine law.

2. There may be sin against a law which is in existence but which is not known. A man may not know of the existence of a law, and thus may sin ignorantly.

3. But the sinner of the Bible is one who, if he does not possess a written revelation, does possess a “law written in his heart”—his conscience. (See Romans 2:14-15.) Though the guilt is incomparably greater when a man sins against both conscience and revelation, yet he who transgresses the law of the first only is a sinner, and there must be overthrow in both cases, because moral transgression contains within itself the elements of destruction.

II. His overthrow.

1. For a man to be overthrown by breaking a law, that law must be good. There have been laws that common integrity has compelled men to transgress, and men have been rewarded by the Great Lawgiver for the transgression. There are still laws in force in the world, the violation of which is a proof of moral courage. But the sinner here doomed to overthrow is a sinner against a law to which his own conscience bears witness that it is holy and just, and good (Romans 7:12).

2. The breaking of this law must overthrow a man, even if no power were ever put forth against him. Sin debases a man by the law of cause and effect. Nothing can prevent a man who throws himself over a precipice from finding the bottom of the chasm—nothing can keep a sinner from sinking lower and lower in the moral scale. The first man finds a bottom—comes to the end of his fall—he who sins keeps sinking lower and lower while he continues in sin.

3. The law against which the sinner transgresses is backed by the highest authority, and by the greatest power of the universe. It represents the greatest Being. Sin is not directed against an abstraction, but against a person. He who has promulgated it is a living personality, and has all power to enforce its penalties. The Almighty God is against the sinner. Must he not then be overthrown?

4. The sinner can be placed in such a position as will justify him from the guilt of his past transgressions, and will enable him to keep the law in the future. The Lawgiver has Himself provided this way of escape. He Himself gives the power to obey. Hence he who sins against this law sins against mercy too, and doubles his condemnation, “is overthrown,” not by God’s law, but by his rejection of God’s method of deliverance from the guilt and power of sin.


Wickedness is ruin.

1. It exhausts a man’s property, whether much or little. Sin is a very expensive thing; a person cannot commit it to any extent, but at a considerable loss, not of time only, but of substance. The passions are clamorous, exorbitant, and restless, till gratified, and this must be repeated. The case of the prodigal is in point, he wasted all his patrimony in riotous living.

2. It blasts his reputation. Sin can never be deemed honourable on correct principles; yet while sinners possess means of supporting themselves in their vices, they still keep up their name and rank in the world; not in the Church of God, or in the estimation of heaven. But when the means of supplying fuel to feed the fires of foul desire and towering ambition fail, then their outward splendours go out into darkness. (See Proverbs 10:7; Proverbs 24:30).

3. It destroys health. Intemperance undermines the best constitution; it is a violence done to the physical order of things; it renders a man old in constitution, while he is young in years.

4. It hastens the approach of death. Wicked men frequently do “not live out half their days” (Psalms 55:23), “for when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Sometimes their passions hurry them forward to the commission of crimes which terminate in the most disgraceful exit.

5. It effects the damnation of the soul. A sinner “wrongeth his own soul” (Proverbs 8:36). He quenches the Spirit of grace, neglects the salvation of the gospel, till he goes to his own place. “The wicked shall be turned into hell” (Psalms 9:17).—Theta, from Sketches of Sermons.

Righteousness keepeth the upright, so that, though belied or abused, he will not let go his integrity (Job 27:5). David’s “feet stood in an even place” (Psalms 26:12). The spouse, though despoiled of her veil and wounded by the watch, yet keeps close to Christ (Song of Song of Solomon 5:0). Not but that the best are sometimes disquieted in such cases; for not the evenest weights, but at their first putting into the balance, somewhat sway both parts thereof, not without some show of inequality, which yet, after some little motion, settle themselves in a meet poise and posture.—Trapp.

As he walketh safely in the way who hath a faithful convoy with him, so he is most sure of a faithful convoy who is a strong convoy unto himself. Righteousness alone is a puissant army, and he cannot perish whom righteousness preserveth. But how can he escape who is beset in the way by his own villany. The Hebrew is, that wickedness overthroweth sin. When a sinner is grown settled in sinning, he justly getteth the name of sin, and such an one it is that it is here spoken of.—Jermin.

Righteousness,” that good claim in law which merit gives some of the creatures. Our righteousness comes to us as the merit of Christ. The condition of our being held righteous is faith and new obedience. Therefore, if one is obedient, or, as this verse expresses it, “is upright” or “of integrity in the way,” “righteousness keeps guard over him.” Once righteous, always righteous. Having the proof of our righteousness now, that righteousness, or good standing in the law, shall guard us for ever; while sin, becoming equally perpetual, does not only not guard us, but (another intensive second clause) rejects what guard we have; that is, as it is most evangelically expressed, “subverts” or “overturns” the sin-offering. This word, sin-offering, instead of allowing such an interpretation (see Critical Notes) has it in all preceding books. “Sin” is the rare rendering. Some of the most beautiful Scriptures, that are Messianic in their cast (Genesis 4:7), are ruined by the translation “sin.” Leviticus never has the translation “sin” even in the English version.—Miller.

There is more bitterness following upon sin’s ending than ever there was sweetness flowing from sin’s acting. You that see nothing but well in its commission will suffer nothing but woe in its conclusion. You that sin for your profits will never profit by your sins.—Dyer.

Verses 7-8


Proverbs 13:7. Maketh, or “showeth.”

Proverbs 13:8. The latter clause of this is very obscure, but rebuke is generally translated “threatening,” and is understood to mean that no threatening can gain anything from the poor as they have nothing to lose. Stuart understands it that “notwithstanding the obvious advantage of wealth, yet the poor man will not listen to those who rebuke him for sloth and wastefulness which have made him poor. The supposition on this ground is that the man is poor by his own fault.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 13:7-8


I. There may be pretensions to wealth where there is comparative poverty. Many men endeavour to make other people believe that they are richer than they are—indeed, it seems to be the common vice of modern society. It is to be deprecated for several reasons.

1. It is an injury to the man himself. It very often happens that his foolish artifices fail to blind others; he is like the ostrich who, when he puts his head into the sand, thinks he has hidden himself entirely from observation; he only makes himself an object of ridicule to those whom he thinks he has deceived. If, for a time, he that “hath nothing” succeeds in making people believe he is rich, the truth comes out in time, the bubble bursts, and the pretender comes to such shame as would never have been his portion if he had been content to pass for what he really was—a poor man.

2. Such pretenders are a curse to others. One such man makes many others. His costly furniture and brilliant entertainments, and all the adjuncts which are necessary to keep up the reputation of being a millionaire, lead his neighbours and associates to keep up appearances of the same kind, and so the mischief grows. Then such men rob honest men by leading them to trust them with their goods or money, and when the end comes many are brought to ruin. Examples of this truth are not far to seek, they are, alas, far too common in the present day.

3. Such pretension is base hypocrisy. A sin against which a righteous God levels His sternest threatenings (see on chap. Proverbs 11:9).

II. He who is really wealthy and yet does not use his wealth to the glory of God “hath nothing.”

1. He is poor in relation to his fellow-creatures. The greatest beggar cannot do less for the world than he does, and he is poor in the love and gratitude of those from whom he might win a rich reward by the exercise of benevolence.

2. He is poor in spiritual riches. A miserly, niggardly man must be poor “towards God” (Luke 12:21)—must be destitute of all that God counts worth possessing. The rich Church of Laodicea was so “increased with goods” that she said, “I have need of nothing,” but in the sight of the Son of God she was “poor” (Revelation 3:17).

III. In a spiritual sense this text is true. Possibly the rebuke to the Laodician Church may refer to that satisfaction in spiritual things “which maketh itself rich yet hath nothing,” because its possessor is destitute of any real knowledge of his own spiritual needs and, consequently, of his spiritual poverty.

IV. There are men who are in every respect the opposite of those with whom we have been dealing.

1. There is the miser who “maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” It is difficult to know what motive can prompt a man to do this except covetousness—a fear that he will be expected to part with some of his wealth for the good of others. What, therefore, was said under the second head will apply to him.

2. There are those who make no show of wealth, yet having enough to sustain their position in life are really rich. The man who is content to be known for what he really is, and has enough to live honestly, is rich, for riches and poverty are merely comparative terms, and the riches of one man would be poverty to another.

“For he that needs five thousand pounds to live,
Is full as poor as he that needs but five.”

Therefore, “a man that maketh (or sheweth) himself poor” in this sense, has great riches. He has a sufficiency for all his wants, he retains his self-respect and the respect of his fellow-men.

3. The really poor man is rich when he spends his little with regard to the glory of God. Who of all those who cast their gifts into the treasury was so rich as the poor widow who cast in “all her living?” She was rich in the commendation of her Lord (Mark 12:43), and all such as she will have the same recognition and will be rich in the gratitude and love of their fellow-creatures. Such an one shows that he is in possession of the “true riches” (Luke 16:11) which alone can preserve from moral bankruptcy. To them belongs the commendation “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich” (Revelation 2:9). Such “poor of this world” are “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5).

4. Those who are thus really, because spiritually, rich have always a sense of spiritual poverty. They esteem themselves “less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8), their watchword is “not as though I had already attained” (Philippians 3:12), therefore, to them belongs the rich possession of the friendship of “the High and Lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). Thus “making themselves poor,” they “yet have great riches.”

V. There are advantages and disadvantages connected both with material wealth and with poverty. “The ransom of a man’s life are his riches.” This was more literally true in Solomon’s days than in ours, and is more so now in Oriental countries than among the western nations. There, even now, a man’s riches often excite the greed of some despotic ruler, or one of his irresponsible officials, and he is accused of some crime in order that his accuser may pocket a large ransom. In times of war, too, the rich are exposed to losses and vexations from their conquerors, which the poor escape. Wealth is the magnet which draws the plunderers upon them; although, at the same time, it enables them to ransom their lives. This is one of the penalties of riches. The spirit, although not the letter of the proverb, may be applied to modern European life. It is the hall of the nobleman that is exposed to the visits of the burglar. It is the great capitalist that loses when banks fail, and when there is a commercial panic. But none of these things touch a poor man. The despots pass him over, because he has no riches wherewith to ransom his life; in the time of war he is unmolested, as when Judea was invaded, “the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen (2 Kings 25:12). No thief plans a midnight surprise upon his humble abode; he cannot lose his money, he has none to lose. Vultures are not attracted to a skeleton, they gather round a carcase covered with flesh. So it is with those who make it their business to live upon the wealth of others. They leave the poor man free. He hears not “rebuke” or “threatening,” he is left undisturbed. “He that is down need fear no fall,” says Bunyan. “He that hath empty pockets may whistle in the face of a highwayman,” says Juvenal. Therefore it is man’s wisdom, whether poor or rich, to be content with such things as he has (Hebrews 13:5); to appear only what he really is, and to dedicate his earnings, or his savings, or his inheritance, to the glory of God; to follow George Herbert’s advice—

“Be thrifty; but not covetous: therefore give

Thy need, thine honour, and thy friend his due.

Never was scraper brave man. Get to live;

Then live, and use it; else, it is not true

That thou hast gotten. Surely use alone
Makes money not a contemptible stone.”


The teaching of chap. Proverbs 11:24 finds its echo here. There is a seeming wealth behind which there lies a deep spiritual poverty and wretchedness. There is a poverty which makes a man rich for the kingdom of God.—Plumptre.

This is a world of making show, the substance of truth is gone out of it, and ever since man ceased to be what he should be, he striveth to seem to be what he is not. Every sin masking in its own vizard: the vainglorious and the covetous both seeking by their seeming to gain some real advantage to themselves.—Jermin.

These opposite faults originate in the same cause, an excessive esteem of worldly riches. It is this that makes poor men pretend to have them, and rich men conceal them for the purpose of preserving them more safely. But although money is sometimes a defence, the want of it is sometimes a shadow under which poor men live unnoticed by the plunderers.—Lawson.

Surely it is just that riches should be the ransom of a man’s life, for it is by them that a man’s life is brought into danger.—Jermin.

The seventh verse is terse beyond all expression. Such are all these proverbs. Making oneself rich may be itself the poverty, and making oneself poor may be itself the wealth; inasmuch as these acts may have been sins or graces of the soul, which enter by the providence of Heaven into the very condition of the spirit. The meaning is that outward circumstances are nothing in the question. A saint is poor or rich as is most useful for him. The treasure is himself. “There is that maketh himself rich and is all nothing;” because himself, not the wealth, is the important matter. On the other hand, “There is that makes himself poor,” and not only “hath great riches,” which is the imperfect translation of our Bibles, but “is a great treasure.” He himself bereft of wealth, is all the greater for what God may have assigned. Solomon expounds more specially in the eighth verse: Ransom, covering—i.e., the covering of his guilt. Property is a mere incident. A man’s true opulence is his eternal redemption. He is not poor who is pinched by want; but he who has not listened to rebuke.—Miller.

It is not poverty so much as pretence that harasses a ruined man—the struggle between a proud mind and an empty purse—the keeping up a hollow show, that must soon come to an end. Have the courage to appear poor, and you disarm poverty of its sharpest sting.

Verse 9


Proverbs 13:9. Rejoiceth, “burns brightly.” The words light and lamp are regarded by most modern commentators as synonymous.



I. The analogy between the righteous and the wicked. Both have a light or lamp. The words here translated lamp and light are elsewhere used interchangeably, and are often used to signify prosperity (1 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19) of any and every kind. Prosperity resembles a lamp in that it is an attractive force. A benighted traveller in the darkness is drawn towards a light wherever he sees it, although he does not know whether it is the light of a thief or of an honest man. Tempest-tossed mariners look anxiously for a light in their extremity, and hope for help from it whether it swings from the masthead of a pirate or from a vessel which carries the police of the seas. So prosperity in any man is an attractive force. A prosperous wicked man attracts to himself the needy and unfortunate. The unprincipled gather round him, hoping to share in some degree in the light and heat of his worldly success, and the good man who is poor is often compelled by need to do the same. The lamp of prosperity, like the net of the kingdom, “gathers of every kind” (Matthew 13:47), not because of what the prosperous man is, but because of what he has. Many saints are dependent on sinners for their daily bread. Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate hoping to be fed with the crumbs which fell from his table. The prosperity of the righteous is equally attractive both to good men and bad for the same reason. The great mass of men in the world are toiling upon the sea of life for daily bread like tempest-tossed mariners, and wherever they see the light of prosperity they make for it, hoping for help in their need. And prosperity in the general acceptance of the word is as often given to the good as to the bad—to the wicked as to the righteous. Some commentators regard the light or the lamp as emblematic also of posterity. The words in 2 Kings 8:19 may be translated “to give him always a light in his children” (see Lange on 2 Chronicles 21:7), and in this sense also the analogy holds good, seeing that both good and bad men become the heads of households, and have joy and honour in their children.

II. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked.

1. The righteous man will grow more and more prosperous. Present and material prosperity is but an earnest and a shadow of that higher light which shall “rejoice” throughout eternity. For the contrast implies that his light shall not “be put out.” And this continuance has its root in his character. Although in this world character does not govern circumstances, there is a world in which it does. And, after all, a good man’s light—or occasion of satisfaction—consists more in what he is than in what he has, and this shines “more and more unto the perfect day” (chap. Proverbs 4:18)—See Homiletics, page 58.

2. The wicked man’s prosperity will come to an end. His candle will be put out by the hand of death. It may burn well for a time and he may rejoice in its light, but even if it continue to shed its rays around him till the last hour of earthly life, death will put it out. All that has made him a prosperous man has belonged to the earth, and this can shed no light beyond the grave. It may be put out by the hand of retribution before death. Lamps kindled by unjust means may burn well for a time, and human retribution may never put out their light, because men may not know how they were lighted; but God’s providence may put them out. (On this subject see next verse.) Or if Divine retribution reserves its extinguisher for another world, another avenger may “put out” the light. Conscience may assert its right, and without actually taking from a man that in which he has promised himself satisfaction, may take the satisfaction from it, and thus as surely “put out” his “lamp.”


How glowing, then, is the light of the Church in the combined shining of all her members! Many of them have no remarkable individual splendour; yet, like the lesser stars forming the Milky Way, they present a bright path of holiness in the spiritual firmament.… But it is the light of the righteous that rejoiceth. Sin, therefore, will bring the cloud. Do we hope to shine in the heavenly firmament? Then we must shine with present glory in the firmament of the Church. So delicate is the Divine principle, that every breath of this world dims its lustre.—Bridges.

The comfort of the righteous is a heavenly light, whose shining is rejoicing, and which even in this life maketh the darkness of Egypt to be light in Goshen, maketh the night of troubles to be day; but at length it shall be such a sunshine of glory, as that it dazzleth the human understanding to conceive it now. On the other side, the best comfort which the wicked have is but a lamp or a candle which shineth in the night; for as the light of a candle is shut up within a narrow circle of space, so their comfort is shut up within a narrow compass of time, until at length the candle be put out, never again to be lighted. But what say I at length, when Job saith the candle of the wicked is often put out. Upon which words St. Gregory saith, “Ofttimes the wicked thinks his child to be his candle, but when his child, too much beloved, is taken away, “his candle is put out” and so with present honour or wealth. He, therefore, that desireth not to rejoice in eternal things, cannot here always rejoice where he would be eternal.—Jermin.

They may not always rejoice, but their light will. “The lamp of the wicked” shines upon their own transitoriness. They never say that it will last. They know “that it shall he put out.” This is rather a dismal provision for being very cheerful. But “the light of the righteous,” however much they look at it, “rejoices.” The more they try it, the more it burns. It does not shine upon its own lack of oil. And, though they are not self-luminous, yet their “light” is, for it is the light of the Spirit, and it shines more and more through eternal ages.—Miller.

Verse 10


Proverbs 13:10. This may be read “Only by pride cometh contention,” or “by pride cometh only (nothing but) contention.”



I. Unlawful contention is the offspring of pride. If she is not her only child, she is her eldest-born. Scripture language more than hints that pride was the beginning of contention among the angels. Paul, speaking of the qualifications of a “bishop” or teacher, tells Timothy that such an one is in danger of “being lifted up with pride,” and thus falling “into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6), thus seeming to indicate that pride was at the bottom of all the contention that is at present going on in the universe between light and darkness, between good and evil. From the pride of this fallen star has come contention in heaven, and earth, and hell.

He it was whose guile,

Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind; what time his pride

Had cast him out from heaven, with all his host
Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in glory ’bove his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If he opposed, and with ambitious aim,
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in heaven, and battle proud,
With vain attempt.

And in the history of man’s dealings with man pride is the root of contention. “Whence come wars and fightings among you?” come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1). And is not the lust of pride, or envy, which is her foster-sister, the great cause of all domestic, and social, and national contentions? Has it not been the cause of every unrighteous war from the days of Chedorlaomer to the present century? And pride breeds contention on a narrower battle-ground still. It often creates war in the human spirit. Pride brings contention between duty and inclination, and, although there is no bloodshed, the contest is often very sharp and painful. The fact that “by pride cometh contention” is so plain that it may be said to be written upon the scroll of time, like Ezekiel’s roll, within and without. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. Pride is a thinking more of ourselves than we are—an over-estimation of our own worth. This must lead us to strive for supremacy over others who are our equals, or even our superiors. This must bring contention, for they will not willingly accord to us that to which we have no lawful claim. Therefore, while there is pride in the universe contention will never end. The fountain must be dried up before the streams cease to flow. When a human soul is emptied of pride there will be peace within. In proportion as it ceases to be a ruling force in the world contention will cease. Pride keeps the fallen principalities in contention with heaven, keeps the sinner in contention with his Saviour, and keeps man in contention with man.

II. Thoso who are not ruled by pride are well advised.

1. Because of the consequences that obedience to the dictates of pride must bring to men themselves. There is in all men a wholesome fear of the consequences which flow from certain actions. If a child sees another burnt from playing with the fire, he will avoid doing that which he has seen to bring such pain and deformation to his brother. Self-love deters him from the act. Those who are well advised, because advised by the highest wisdom, know what the consequences of pride have been, and take cognisance of the deformation of character which it works in men around them. Therefore, the natural and spiritual instinct of wholesome self-love leads them to dread that which would bring such an additional scar to their already too much deformed character. The children of wisdom are well advised to be afraid of pride on account of its consequences to themselves.

2. Because of the misery it would bring to those nearly related to them. Isolation is not possible in this world. Every man, woman, and child is more or less nearly related to some others. The relation may be physical, intellectual, political, or moral—in some instances all are combined. A proud man, or woman, or child, makes those who belong to them miserable. A proud father makes his children miserable, a proud king involves his country in war, and brings misery upon his subjects. How many friends has pride severed. How many homes and countries has family or national pride blighted. Surely, then, those are well advised who shun it for the sake of those related to them.

3. Because of its consequences to humanity, The miseries of the human race are increased by pride, and the progress of the gospel is hindered by it. The man who does not scruple to pour oil upon a burning house, not only shows that he has no intention to help to extinguish the flames, but that he intends to widen their influence. Each drop that he pours upon the fire increases its intensity, and spreads the destruction. There are men who do not hesitate, by the indulgence of pride, to increase that war of passions which burns so fiercely and destructively in the world and desolates ten thousand hearts and homes. But the well advised, by the exercise of the grace of humility, endeavour to quench the conflagration which, first kindled by hell, has devastated the earth for so many generations.


Pride, if there be no cause of contention given, will make it. Transcendo non obedio perturbo is the motto written upon pride’s triple crown.… Pride is a dividing distemper. Bladders blown up with wind spurt one from another, and will not close; but prick them, and you may pack a thousand of them in a little room.… It was a great trouble to Haman to lead Mordecai’s horse, which another man would not have thought so. The moving of a straw troubleth proud flesh; whereas, humility, if compelled to go one mile, will go two for a need; yea, as far as the shoes of the gospel of peace can carry it. “The wisdom from above is peaceable.”—Trapp.

As to the great quarrel with God, which needs the ransom (Proverbs 13:8), and which is mended by the righteousness (Proverbs 13:6), how long would that last, if we abandoned pride?—Miller.

Verse 11


Proverbs 13:11. Vanity, rather “fraud.” By labour, literally “by the hand.” or “handful after handful.”



I. Wealth can be gotten. Wealth may be acquired by those who have it not. The wealth of the sea is within the reach of the fisherman. If he put down his net, sooner or later he will probably be rewarded with some gain. There is wealth in the sea of human life. Although the experience of some may be “to toil all night and to take nothing,” yet the rule is that men who make an effort will succeed in bringing into their nets more or less of worldly gain. Some degree of skill and toil are needed to do this, but probably there was never a time when talent of any kind, or patient endeavour, was more certain to meet with a reward than in the present day. Aptitude for business will probably make a man a thriving tradesman if it does not make him a merchant prince. Intellectual power and artistic skill have a wide field in which to work, and are generally sure of liberal reward. Probably there never was an age when those who have nothing but the net of genius to spread upon the sea of life were so certain to land gold upon the shore.

II. But there are two ways of growing rich. There is the way of vanity. Some men come into a fortune by a single throw of the dice—by a fortunate speculation—a lucky hit. They may not be dishonest as men generally understand the word, although as a rule such transactions will not bear too much exposure to the sunlight, but it is not the best way to get money. Then there are others who for a lifetime have nibbled at the lawful gains of other men, and have thus become rich. And others have gotten their wealth by some one act of dishonesty, of which society is ignorant or is unable to punish. All these ways of making money are vain in comparison with that of patient, honest, daily toil. The reaper gathers in the golden grain in the sweat of his face, an armful at each stroke of the sickle; step by step, “hand by hand,” he makes himself master of the field and gathers the wheat into the garner. So patient daily toil is the Divinely-ordained way to grow rich. The daily practice of industrious habits and the exercise of patience, which are thus rendered necessary, are beneficial to a man’s moral nature.

III. The possession of wealth will be permanent or short-lived according to the way in which it has been acquired. l. Wealth gotten at a leap is generally “diminished” by the man who gained it. Such men are generally reckless in their expenditure, and squander a fortune in almost as short a time as they gained it. Such a sudden acquisition of wealth has been unfavourable to the formation of thrifty habits, and the man is not equal to his position. Many a gold-digger who has found in a day a nugget worth many thousands, has been a poor man again in a few months, and the experience of most men furnishes them with some similar illustration of the truth although not perhaps so striking.

2. Wealth gotten by dishonesty will be diminished by God. Time only is needed to make manifest the righteous judgment of God upon wealth gotten by such “vanity.” Like the prophet’s gourd, although it affords pleasant shelter to those who sit under it now, there is a worm at the root which will certainly bring it to nothing. Did we but know how some fortunes have been acquired, we should be less surprised at their possessors being suddenly reduced to beggary. It may be that those who are thus brought low are not the makers, but the possessors only, of wealth gotten by vanity, yet they have to pay the penalty. On the contrary, the man who has patiently and honestly gathered, little by little, a sufficiency, or even more, has gathered at the same time wisdom to use it, and has not forfeited the blessing of the Lord (chap. Proverbs 10:22).


“It is easier to make a fortune than to keep it.” So say the worldly. Specially forbidden is the keeping of the bread of heaven (Exodus 16:19). It was to be gathered every morning. A man who keeps gathering on the hand is the man to stay rich. But the saint who hoards up the past, and lives upon the fortune that he had, is the Israelite who kept the manna, and who found that it “bred worms and stank.” Even happiness is not promoted by over-guard. “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” … Continuing to work not only keeps wealth, but “increases it,” most particularly spiritual wealth.—Miller.

The words admit of three renderings

(1) That of the A.V. “Wealth gotten by vanity,” i.e., by a windfall, or sudden stroke of fortune, not by honest labour, is soon diminished; or

(2) wealth is diminished by vanity, by empty and hollow ostentation; or
(3) wealth is diminished quicker than a breath. Of these
(1) is believed to be the best. In any case the general meaning seems to be that the mere possession of riches is as nothing; they come and go; but the power to gain by skill of hand is everything. By labour, “or by the hand,” has three possible meanings
(1), as in the A.V.;
(2) in proportion to his strength;
(3) “in due measure.”—Plumptre.

Ill-gotten goods fly away without taking leave of the owner; leaving nothing but the print of talons to torment him (chap. Proverbs 23:5). “But he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” Howbeit, sometimes, it is otherwise. “Master, we have toiled all night, and taken nothing” (Luke 5:5).—Trapp.

Verse 12


Proverbs 13:12. Latter clause, “a desire accomplished is a tree of life.”



I. Two things are necessary to constitute hope.

1. There is the desire for the real or supposed good. The man conceives there is in the distance that which he esteems a good, and he desires to possess it. No man desires what he deems is an evil. The fact that he desires it shows that he regards it as a good.

2. There is expectation. A man may desire a good thing without hoping for it because he may feel that it is impossible to have his desire fulfilled. He has no expectation of its accomplishment, consequently he has no hope. Hope includes some amount of expectation, some foundation for the hope. A man who knows that his disease is incurable may desire to recover his health, but as he has no reason to expect recovery he does not hope for it. Sometimes, also, hope is founded on the promise of some person who is presumed to be both able and willing to perform it.

II. The constant postponement of the attainment of the desired and expected good produces mental sickness. Sickness of body enfeebles its powers, so does sickness of soul. A man derives strength to work when he possesses hope of enjoying some good thing in the future. Hope is a kind of spiritual food, by feeding upon which a man renews his energy. But the constant postponement of its realisation renders the hope less and less strong, and has the same effect upon the mind as insufficient food has upon the body, it enfeebles its resolution and lessens its courage. If a hungry man finds each day that his portion of food grows less, he will soon be conscious of loss of flesh and strength, and if the process goes on for many months he will lose all power of action and probably his very life. The same thing takes place in a man’s spirit when hope is indefinitely “deferred.”

III. The accomplishment of the desire and expectation renews mental health and strength. “It is a tree of life.” The fruit of the tree of life in Paradise was designed to lengthen man’s life, to perpetuate his youth by constantly renewing his bodily vigour. It is said of the tree of life in the Paradise yet to come that “its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). So the realisation of hope renews the life of the spirit, quickens all its powers, perpetuates its youth. And if the hope has been so long deferred as to induce “heart sickness,” its “coming” brings healing with it. Bodily health is restored by the operation of something from without. It is not usually brought about by that which is within us, but by the coming to us of that which is without. A man desires something which he has not—something outside of himself—either a material or a spiritual good; and if he comes to possess it, it is to the soul what healing medicine is to the body. And as those who eat of the tree of life in the heavenly world are “children of the resurrection,” and sons of undying youth, so realised hope makes the spirit conscious of new life, because it brings joy, and when a man is filled with joy he feels young, however many years he has lived. And renewed youth brings renewed activity. It lifts up the hands which hang down, and restores the feeble knees, and gives a man a new start in the race of life. Applying the words to the revelation of the New Testament, to the “hope of the Gospel” (Colossians 1:23), we remark—

1. That the Christian must be the subject of deferred hope. He must wait for the realisation of his desires and expectations. The “adoption of the body” (Romans 8:23) must be waited for. A glorified body would be out of place in an unglorified world. This hope must be deferred until his Lord’s expectations with regard to this world are fulfilled. The Son of God is waiting until the Father shall give the word that “time shall be no longer”—until the times of restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). He is “at the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:13). When that expectation is fulfilled, the desire of the Christian with regard to his resurrection body will be fulfilled also. He must also wait until after death for perfect victory over sin and its consequence, for the full revelation of what it is to be one of the sons of God. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” “When this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:54).

2. That even the deferred hope of the Christian is a tree of life. It is an eater that yields meat. It bears fruit

(1) It gives birth to patience, and there is no grace that the human spirit needs more. According to apostolic teaching it is needful to “let patience have her perfect work,” if the Christian is to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4). It is the evidence of a great mind to be able to wait. The Eternal is a “God of patience” (Romans 15:5). He can wait, because He is infinitely great.

(2) It brings forth joy. Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).

(3) It sanctifies the soul. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself (1 John 3:3).

(4) It gives sympathy with God in relation to unregenerate humanity. God defers the realisation of the Christian’s hope, because He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). While we wait the Divine desire grows in us also, that “all should come to repentance.”


Perhaps in all history there is not a more salient instance of hoping against hope deferred than that of Columbus. Years and years were wasted in irksome solicitation; years spent, not indeed in the drowsy and monotonous attendance of ante-chambers, but, as his foremost biographer narrates, amid scenes of peril and adventure, from the pursuit of which he was several times summoned to attend royal conferences and anon dismissed abruptly. “Whenever the court had an interval of leisure and repose (from the exigencies of the Moorish war), there would again be manifested a disposition to consider his proposal, but the hurry and tempest would again return, and the question be again swept away.” … He came to look upon these indefinite postponements as a mere courtly mode of evading his importunity, and after the rebuff in the summer of 1490, he is said to have renounced all further confidence in vague promises, which had so often led to chagrin; and, giving up all hopes of countenance from the throne, he turned his back upon Seville, indignant at the thought of having been beguiled out of so many years of waning existence. But it is impossible not to admire the great constancy of purpose and loftiness of spirit displayed by Columbus ever since he had conceived the sublime idea of the discovery. When he applied again to the court after the surrender of Grenada, in 1492, more than eighteen years had elapsed since the announcement of the design, the greatest part of which had been consumed in applications to various sovereigns, poverty, neglect, ridicule, contumely, and the heart-sickness of hope deferred, all that hitherto had come of it. Five years later, when preparations were afoot for his third voyage, we read that, “so wearied and disheartened did he become by the impediments thrown in his way,” that he thought of abandoning his discoveries altogether.—Jacox.


In his analysis of “the immediate emotions,” Dr. Thomas Brown adverts to that weariness of mind which one would so gladly exchange for weariness of body, and which he takes to be more difficult to bear with good humour than many profound griefs, because it involves the uneasiness of hope that is renewed every moment, to be every moment disappointed. He supposes a day’s journey along one continuous avenue, where the uniformity of similar trees at similar distances is of itself most wearisome; but what we should feel with far more fretfulness would be the constant disappointment of our expectation, that the last tree that we beheld in the distance would be the last that should rise upon us; when “tree after tree, as if in mockery of our very patience itself, would still continue to present the same dismal continuity of line.” Lord Bolingbroke, a professed expert in its power to weary and wear out, called suspense the only insupportable misfortune of life.—Jacox.

The rule, as expressed in the first clause, is universal, but in the second clause it is applied to a particular case.… The second member is a dividing word. The accomplishment of the desire is “a tree of life.” This belongs only to the hope of the holy. Many, after waiting long and expecting eagerly, discover, when at last they reach their object, that it is a withered branch and not a living tree. When a human heart has been set on perishable things, after the sickness of deferred expectation comes the sorer sickness of satiated possession. If the world be made the portion of the immortal Spirit, to want it is one sickness, to have it is another. The one is a hungry mouth empty, the other is a hungry mouth filled with chaff. The clog of disappointed possession is a more nauseous sickness than the aching of disappointed desire. There is no peace to the wicked. They are always either desiring or possessing; but to desire and to possess a perishable portion are only two different kinds of misery to men. They are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. You stand on the shore, and gaze on the restless waters. A wave is hastening on, struggling and panting, and making with all its might for the shore. It seems as if all it wanted was to reach the land. It reaches the land, and disappears in a hiss of discontent. Gathering its strength at a distance, it tries again, and again, with the same result. It is never satisfied, it never rests. In the constitution of the world, under the government of the Most Holy, when a soul’s desire is set on unworthy objects, the accomplishment of the desire does not satisfy the soul. Arnot.

Aquinas noteth that hope in itself causeth joy, it is by accident that it causeth sorrow. Inasmuch as it is a present apprehension of good to come, it breedeth delight, but as it wanteth the presence of that good, it bringeth trouble. It is therefore the delay of hope that afflicteth. And indeed a lingering hope breedeth in the heart as it were a lingering consumption. It is a long child-bearing travail of a weak mind, for hope having conceived comfort is still in labour, until it be brought forth. So it is with the servants of God with respect to heaven. They having begun in hope their journey thitherward, it makes them even sick at heart to think how long it is until they can get there. Wherefore, St. Gregory saith, the punishments of the innocent are the desires of the righteous. For all having lost heaven by sin, even the just are punished with the deferred hope of recovering it.—Jermin.

Here is instruction—

I. To hope for nothing but that which is haveable, and may well be had, and whereof we are capable, and that doth belong unto us. For if protraction cause the heart to languish, what will frustration and disappointment? It is one of the threatenings against the wicked in Deuteronomy, that “their sons and their daughters shall be given unto another people, and their eyes should look for them until they fail, and there shall be no might in their hand” (Deuteronomy 28:32). Now what is meant by this is that their expectation deceived should turn them to as much woe as if their eyes had lost their sight. And that was because that they, incurring the curse by their sinful behaviour, did yet presume of a restitution to happiness as though nothing had appertained to them but blessings.

II. Not to limit God or prescribe to Him in what space He shall fulfil His promise. It was a heathenish speech of the King of Israel’s messenger, when he said, in blasphemous manner, that he neither would nor ought to attend on the Lord any longer (2 Kings 6:33). But we need not draw admonitions against this from the infidelity of the wicked, but from the infirmities of the godly, as Abraham and Sarah had much ado to believe that a child should be gotten and conceived of their body after their natural vigour was consumed, and therefore, Hagar was brought in to help the matter.

III. Not to depend on man, nor to repose our hope in flesh and blood. For thereby we shall not only be delayed of our help too long, but defeated of it altogether. For it is a righteous thing with God, that they who will deify creatures with confidence, should be deceived by creatures with confusion. The poor Israelites found and felt this (Lamentations 4:17).

IV. Where we undertake to minister succour, not to grieve the hearts of them that are in affliction by lingering too long before we relieve them. God doth teach us to show beneficence timely and in due season (chap. Proverbs 3:28). This was one testimony of a good conscience that comforted Job in his extremities, that “he had not held the poor from their desire nor caused the eyes of the widow to fail (Job 31:16).—Dod.

Hope’s hours are full of eternity; and how many see we languishing at hope’s hospital, as he at the pool of Bethesda! Hope unfailable (Romans 5:5) is founded upon faith unfeigned. The desire will come to those who patiently wait on God; for waiting is but hope and trust lengthened. We are apt to antedate the promises and set God at a time as they (Jeremiah 8:20) who looked for salvation in summer at furthest. We are short-breathed, short-spirited. But as God seldom comes at our time, so he never fails at His own, and then He is most sweet, because most seasonable.—Trapp.

The fourth verse has said that “the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing.” This verse declares that longing, accompanied by procrastination, enfeebles the heart; but that a bold plunging after the good, and attaining it, is a “tree of life.” This, dimly, is true in worldly affairs. A man who desires some worldly good and wavers, enfeebles his heart, but he who will dash boldly in strengthens it.… The least taste of arrived-at desire in the spiritual world, like the apples of Eden, breeds “life.” The soul will go on after that eternally. Miller.

If Jacob serve the churl Laban seven years longer, if he think he shall have Rachel at the end of it, it will be but as seven days. Thus it is that the hope of better days sweeteneth the present sadness of any outward condition. There is no grief so heavy, but if a man tie heaven at the end of it, it will become light, but put them together, and the one will be swallowed up in the other.—Spencer.

The world dares say no more of its devices than Dum spiro spero (while I breathe, I hope); but the children of God can add by virtue of their living hope, Dum expiro spero (while I expire, I hope).—Leighton.

Hope is the hunger that makes our food acceptable; but hope deferred, like hunger prolonged, brings a kind of torture.… With the child of God “the patience of hope” issues in “the full assurance of hope.” What was it to Abraham, when, after long deferred hope, the answer came? Laughter. What was it when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, and they were like unto them that dream? What was it to old Simeon and the waiting remnant when “the desire of all nations” came? What to the disciples, when, at the manifestation of their risen Lord, their sickening hearts believed not for joy, and wondered?… But what will be the joy at the grand consummation of tope? (Romans 8:23-25).—Bridges.

Verse 13


Proverbs 13:13. Shall be destroyed, rather “is bound,” or “is in bonds to it.” Rewarded, “be at peace.”



The literal translation of the first clause of this verse is “Whoso despiseth the law is bound by it,” or “is in bonds to it” (see Critical Notes).

I. Divine law is a necessity of human nature. There must be a standard of right and wrong for moral and responsible creatures, and the law which is that standard ought to be appreciated in proportion to its perfection. Law in a family is a necessity for its right regulation, and in proportion as it approaches perfection it will meet the needs of its members.

1. The law of God is a necessity, in order to educate men’s moral sense. The human conscience sometimes lies buried under ignorance, or is passive in the hands of lawless desire, and it needs the law to arouse it to perform its proper functions, and thus prepare men for a Saviour. “Christ,” says Paul, “is the end of the law.” It arouses men to feel their need of His atonement.
2. It is needed as a basis of punishment and reward. There are some actions upon which men, by almost universal consent, pass judgment, and their judgment is embodied in their law, and thus forms a basis of conviction for the transgressor. And there are other actions which, by the same consent, are allowed to deserve reward, and that universal consent forms a kind of law. So the holy, just, and true law of God is needed as a standard by which men’s actions may be judged.

II. Whether men honour or despise the law they are bound by it. There is no place and there are no circumstances in this world in which men are not bound by physical law. Every man finds that if he would have health he must inhale pure air. No man can afford to despise this law, but whether he do so or not, it will hold him in bonds. He must obey it if he would have health, to disobey may be death. If a moving object is coming to meet us, if it has more force in it than we have, we shall be overthrown by it if we do not get out of its path. We may do as we please about meeting it, but we cannot be loosed from the law which governs it. These laws of our earthly life may not be universal laws, they are doubtless many of them confined to our present state of being, but the moral law of God is in force throughout the universe and there is no escape from it. What is good here is good everywhere, what is morally right now can never be wrong through all eternity. Whether men obey it or defy it, they will be for ever bound by it.

III. It is seen to be a good law by the results of keeping it. “He that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded,” or “shall be at peace.” Even when men violate physical law they do not pronounce it bad. But it is seen to be good by its effects on those who keep it. Men who obey the laws of health recommend those laws in their own persons. Those who acknowledge the binding nature of Divine law and fear it, recommend it to others as good. “Great peace have they that love Thy law and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165). Self-love binds men to obey it. “Whoso breaketh” this “hedge, a serpent shall bite him” (Ecclesiastes 10:8). The whole Bible is an exposition of this text. (See Homiletics on Proverbs 13:6).


The slave fears the penalty; the child the commandment.—Bridges.

In many things we offend all, but we are not all despisers of the Word of God. Good men have reason to lament their manifold breaches of the commandment, and yet they have a sincere love and esteem for it.—Lawson.

Whatever comes with Divine authority is a Divine commandment. The Gospel is on this as well as other accounts called the “law of faith,” being the Divine prescription for the salvation of sinners.—Wardlaw.

This word has a private and personal, as well as a public application; but it is in the providential government of the nations that its truth has been most conspicuously displayed. The kingdoms of this world in these days prosper or pine in proportion as they honour or despise God’s Word.… Number the nations over one by one, and see where property is valuable and life secure; mark the places where you would like to invest your means and educate your family; you will shun some of the sunniest climes of earth, as if they lay under a polar night, because the light of truth has been taken from their sky. Traverse the world in search of merely human good, seeking but an earthly home, and your tent, like Abraham’s, will certainly be pitched at “the place of the altar.”—Arnot.

The more we despise the law, the more we are bound by it. “But he that fears.” This is a splendid picture of the Christian. He is not one that keeps the law, but “fears” it, i.e., tries to keep it, fears it with a godly fear, and as a climax, frequent in a second clause (see chap. Proverbs 14:11 and passim), he is not one who comes simply less under bonds, but is forgiven altogether.—Miller.

The word of Divine revelation is here, as it were, personified as a real superhuman power, whose service one cannot escape, and in default of this he comes into bondage to it, i.e., loses his liberty.—Lange’s Commentary.

Verse 14


Proverbs 13:14. Law, rather “doctrine,” “instruction.”



I. The wise man lives by rule or according to law. “The law of the wise.” Wherever there is any force or power there must be rule, or there will be destruction from the power and possibly destruction to the power. The power that sets in motion the locomotive must be governed by law, or it will destroy the driver and that to which it was intended to give motion. Under the guidance of law it will minister to man’s convenience, left to itself it will injure him and put an end to itself. Power is lodged within the hand of every human being which may be used to bless himself and others, but in order that it may do so it must act in accordance with some law, it must have some rule for its guidance. Nothing on the earth is so powerful for good or for evil as a human soul, because its power is exercised in the domain of spirit, but without rule it cannot exercise its power for the good of others, and will even destroy all its capabilities of working good to itself. Where men live without a rule of life there is power without law, and this must work evil and not good. It is the characteristic of a morally wise man that all his powers of mind and soul are under control, he has them well in hand.

II. Living by rule gives distinctness and definiteness to life, and thus augments its power. The chaff that is lifted from the sieve by the wind has no definite destination, it is entirely at the mercy of the breeze to carry it anywhere that it pleases. How different is the course of the eagle out in the storm wind! He moves by rule, either facing and cleaving the blast, or utilising its force to bring him to his destination. The vessel that has no hand to hold the rudder is bound for no special port. The sea will take her somewhere, either before or after she has gone to pieces; but it is very uncertain to which point of the compass she will be carried. How different is the steady ploughing of the waves by the ship whose head is under the rule of the helmsman. There is a definiteness in her path, which shows that she has one point to make, one port in view. Those who live without rule are “like the chaff which the wind driveth away.” The blasts of passion, the current of outside circumstances, carry them whithersoever they list. But the wise man lives under a law by which these winds are rendered powerless to drive him, and are made to carry him forward in the path which he is treading. The man without a rule is a vessel without a rudder, and is destined, finally, to be washed upon the shore of eternity a wreck. The very gait of the child of wisdom indicates that he is bound for a certain destination. By the way in which he guides his bark he shows that he has a port to make upon the sea of life. And this definiteness is always about him, whether he is in solitude or among the multitude. He lives by rule, in the private recesses of his soul (see on chap. Proverbs 12:5), and this enables him to rule his outward life. He finds that the rule which governs his private life is strong enough to keep him in public. The power of the multitude is not strong enough to overmaster the power that is resident in his single will, because that will is under a rule which gives it definiteness; and, therefore, increases its force of resistance. Elijah is a fine example of such a man. He was a man emphatically whose whole forceful nature was under Divine rule. Whether he was in the wilderness or upon Mount Carmel he was in subjection to the law of his God, and this made him a man whose life was possessed with one definite aim and purpose. Hence the mighty wave of opposition with which he was met had no more power to move him than the ocean has to move the solid rock. So with his great antitype, John the Baptist. He lived by rule as much when alone in the desert as he did when he was in the midst of the multitude; and, therefore, neither their applause or blame, nor Herod’s outburst of rage, had any power to change his pre-determined course. Hence the question of Him who declared the Baptiser to be the “greatest born of woman,” “What went ye out in the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind,” implying that he was no reed bending to every blast, but a storm-resisting cedar, which amid the uproar of the storm holds its own, and comes out of it more firmly rooted and grounded by the power of the elements which it has resisted. This is the inevitable consequence of living by rule. The unruled though mighty locomotive wastes and loses its power in destroying, that which is under the guidance of law preserves and increases it. A lawless man possesses a terrible capacity for destruction; but his power diminishes, even while he exercises it, while he who is under Divine rule grows stronger and stronger. Sin weakens a man, goodness increases his power.

III. Snares are laid to turn men’s power into a wrong channel—to bring their lives under the dominion of lawlessness. There are “snares of death” set to entrap men’s feet. The aim of every tempter, whether human or Satanic, is to lead men to abuse that power which God has put into our hands in giving us a will. This being the supreme force in a human soul, it is the great aim of the devil that it should not be “subject to the law of God.” His aim in Eden was to loose the bonds which had hitherto held it firm to the Divine command. The end of the temptation was, and has always been, concealed under a specious pretence of freedom, hence it is a snare. It is a snare of death, because, as we have seen, power without rule destroys itself and others. As soon as Eve had fallen into the snare of the devil, she began to know what it was to be under the dominion of sin—she was conscious of having lost her hold upon herself, and of having set in motion within her spirit a mighty power of evil. The great aim of Satan in his temptation of Christ was to get His will to exercise its power, if only for a moment, in antagonism to the will of His Father. If the devil could have prevailed upon the Saviour to have but created a loaf of bread to satisfy His hunger, he would have succeeded in getting Him to use His divine power in a manner which would not have been in accordance with the purpose or plan of God. The same aim is seen in each temptation under different forms, to endeavour to lead the Son of God to free Himself by His Divine power from the law of His Father. But the snare was avoided in each instance by close adherence to the words of the law. “It is written” is a sure preservative from the snares of death.”

IV. The rule by which the morally wise are governed is—First, Abundant. It is a fountain. A fountain is supplied from a living spring—a never-failing source—and it therefore yields an unfailing supply of water for men of all classes and conditions whenever they need it. The Divine rule which governs the child of wisdom originated in God. The fountain of Divine truth came from this holy and Infinite spring. Therefore it is an all-sufficient guide or rule of life for men in all ages, and under all circumstances. Secondly—Lifegiving. It is a “fountain of life.” By being the conserver and strengthener of his spiritual power, as we saw under the first head, and by being the means of his escape from the great soul-ensnarer. Allowed to flow through the garden of the soul, and exert there its due influence, it produces fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:22). The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.… Moreover, by them is thy servant warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward (Psalms 19:7-11). This was the testimony of one who had drunk long and deeply of the waters of this life-giving fountain.


Of law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is in the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least, as feeling her care, and the greatest, as not exempt from her power, both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent admiring her as the mother of peace and joy.—Hooker.

The holy instructions of a wise man are to be valued in this world. There is a living virtue in the word of truth, even when earthen pipes are the channel of its conveyance.—Lawson.

The figure leads to the idea of death as a fowler (Psalms 91:3). If it is not here a mere formula for the dangers of death, then the proverb is designed to state that the life which springs from the doctrine of a wise man as from a fountain of health, for the disciple who will receive it, communicates to him knowledge and strength, to know where the snares of destruction lie, and to hasten with vigorous steps away when they threaten to entangle him.—Delitzsch.

If we take the law of the wise for the law of wise men as given by them, we may thus consider the words. He that goeth on according to the stream and course thereof, shall be sure at last to come to the fountain. The law of the wise is but a stream from the fountain of life, and he that keepeth to the stream shall be sure at last to meet with the fountain.—Jermin.

Sin is Satan’s snare to catch men to perdition. He that is in the power of it, and entangled therewith, is in great peril of perishing, being caught in a trap and held fast there, till either grace deliver him or death devour him. There is no safe treading but in the ways of God. Every step without it, through the length and breadth of the whole world, hath somewhat set in it to entangle us.—Dod.

Even in defect of literal prescript, the spirit of the law will supply practical rules for keeping the heart and life. Dr. Payson says, “By the help of three rules I soon settle all my doubts—viz., to do nothing of which the lawfulness is questionable; to do nothing which indisposes for prayer, or interrupts communion with God; to go into no company, business, or situation in which the presence and blessing of God cannot conscientiously be asked and expected.”—Bridges.

The “law of the wise” can be nothing but the Book of God.… It is essentially life-giving. Its design is not to publish and confirm the sentence of death, but to show how death may be escaped. The declaration of the sentence of death is only intended to show the necessity, and to impress the importance and value of the tidings of life. Life is the end of Divine revelation.—Wardlaw.

Verse 15


Proverbs 13:15. Good understanding, rather “discretion.” Hard, “stony,” “uncultivated.” This is the generally received rendering, but the word often signifies “perpetual.” Miller says “We find it in thirteen places, and in every one of them it means perpetual. “Strong or perpetual is thy dwelling-place” (Numbers 24:21). “Mighty rivers” are perpetual, or perennial rivers (Psalms 74:17). “Mighty nation” (Jeremiah 5:15) corresponds with next expression “ancient nation,” and is to be rendered “perpetual” (or permanent). Umbreit translates it “a standing bog” or “marsh.”



I. Favour is here spoken of as a thing to be desired. It is desirable to have the favour of any man if thereby we can do him any good. It was desirable that Joseph should have Pharaoh’s favour, as he was thereby enabled to gain his ear and help him in his perplexity. The favour which Daniel obtained from Nebuchadnezzar enabled him to be a great blessing to that monarch. A man who his regarded by his fellow creatures with favour possesses a powerful instrument which he may use to do them good. On this account the favour of men is to be desired. It is also desirable to have the favour of good men as thereby we may get good. Good men are the only living representatives of God in the world, and next to the blessedness of having the favour of the parent is the blessedness of having that of His children. Therefore the favour of men is to be desired both for their sakes and for our own.

II. The instrument of obtaining favour. “Good understanding” or “good intelligence.” Man’s highest and truest intelligence springs from moral relation and sympathy with God. All intellectual intelligence is derived from Him, and this intelligence alone will often gain for men a large share of human favour. There are many men of great mental intelligence, who do not acknowledge the existence of God, who have won high places in the esteem of men. But these words refer to those who have been enlightened by the teaching of the Divine spirit, and are in sympathy with God and with His moral laws. Such men are not less intelligent concerning other matters, but more so. Other things being equal, a godly man’s purely intellectual powers are quickened by his godliness. If an ungodly man becomes a true servant of God, all the powers of his mind are thereby strengthened. Observation confirms this, and it is impossible that it should be otherwise. If a man cannot come into communion with a wiser man, without gaining in intelligence, how can he come into communion with the Fountain of all wisdom without becoming a more intelligent man in every sense of the word? What a capable man of business Joseph was. When quite a youth, and without any previous training, he became controller of the household of an Egyptian nobleman; and when only thirty was not only the first lord of Egypt, but showed himself fully equal to all the exigencies of his position. Whence did his “good understanding” proceed? Was it not from his moral relationship with the God of his fathers? “Can we find such an one as this is?” said the heathen king,—“a man in whom the spirit of God is” (Genesis 41:38). The possession of this “good understanding” in temporal and secular matters gives a man favour in the eyes of other men. The possession of spiritual intelligence gives him favour in the eyes of all the good. There is a relationship among all true members of the family of God, which is stronger and deeper than any merely human relationship. And this spiritual intelligence gives a man a moral power among all his fellow-men. They cannot withhold the testimony of their consciences, unless they are altogether hardened they must secretly, if not openly, give him their esteem and confidence. “Natural conscience,” says Trapp, “cannot but do homage to the image of God stamped upon the nature and works of the godly.”

III. The way of those who are destitute of this spiritual intelligence. All such men are “transgressors.” Their spiritual nature is dormant—they are without spiritual discernment. In scriptural phrase they are “blind” (Revelation 3:17) and “dead” (Ephesians 2:1). Their way is hard, however we use the word. (See Critical Notes.)

1. It is hard in the sense of being a well-trodden way. It has become hard by being much frequented—by being perpetually used. It has several elements of attraction.

1. Antiquity is on its side. It is an old way—it has been in use for ages. “No man,” says our Lord, “having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new” (Luke 5:39). Men are naturally conservative—naturally inclined to go as their fathers went. True it is that there is an older way—the way of the good (see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 4:14-19, page 58), but still the way of the transgressor is very ancient.

2. Men’s natural inclination leads into that way. Men are led by their inclination, unless there is a stronger principle within them. We are born with a tendency to evil rather than to good—to walk after the devices of our own heart rather than according to the will of God. In most men “inclination is as strong as will,” and leads them to tread the “way of the transgressor.”

3. It is attractive because of the numbers who tread it. “Many there be which go in thereat” (Matthew 7:13). Many men make that fact a city of refuge wherein to shelter themselves from the admonitions of conscience. “I only do as others do” is regarded by many men as an impregnable citadel wherein they can securely await the righteous judgments of God (See Homiletics on page 8, 2nd head).

2. It is hard and therefore desolate, unfruitful. The common highway that is trodden down by many feet is not the place in which to look for a golden harvest. The stony rock is not a soil whence flowers spring. Men do not expect to gather choice fruit on the desolate moorland. Neither can the way of the transgressor yield the flowers or the pleasant fruits of life. Thorns and nettles are there, but no golden harvest. The favour neither of God nor man is his portion. He can only reap as he has sown (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 11:18-20, page 223).

3. It is a hard way in the sense that it is a miserable way. Every act carries with it a present judgment. Every action has its reaction of pleasure or of pain. Every step, therefore, in the way of transgression has its accompanying reproach of conscience. Then the way of sin is a way of self-deception. What is more painful than to be the subject of constant deception? We have just dwelt upon the heart-sickness of hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12); the sinner is a constant victim of this malady. Nothing can be a more bitter experience than to stake our all upon a promise, and when the time comes for its fulfilment, to find that it was made only to be broken. Yet this is the experience of a transgressor of God’s law, not once or twice, but all through his life. It is his lot not only to deceive but to be deceived (2 Timothy 3:13). He is ever promising himself, and is ever being promised by the master whom he serves, satisfaction as the result of his deeds, but he is always finding that the performance falls as far short of the promise as it did when the devil led our first parents into sin, by the promise “ye shall be as gods,” and performed it by making them slaves to himself. This is another ingredient in the hardness of the way. He is a slave to him who has deceived him. Many a man is fully alive to the deceptive nature of sin—to its utter powerlessness to give him real pleasure—and yet he goes on it. Why is this? He is bound by a chain which he finds it well nigh impossible to break. Evil habits, as well as good ones, grow stronger by exercise. Slavery is hard under any master, excepting under Him whose service is perfect freedom. How bitter, then, is slavery to one who has deceived us. Yet this is not the hardest part of the hard way. None who are thus victims of the great deceiver—none whom he has made his bond slaves but feel that they are so by their own consent. Each evil thought unchecked, each evil thought indulged, has forged a link in the chain. Their condition has been likened, by an old writer, to that of a man who has been busily at work in carrying stick after stick to make a pile of wood, and then finds that he has only been heaping up materials for a fire upon which he is to be burned.

IV. But though the way of transgressors is hard, it is not too hard. Its very hardness is intended to lead them to leave it. Because the end will be worse than the way, it is the tenderest mercy to make the way hard. It only tells him that he has taken the wrong road. The pain that he suffers is only the voice of God, saying, “Do thyself no harm.” When a mountain pass becomes so blocked with fallen rocks that every step is a misery, does it not admonish the traveller to turn back before he makes a fatal slip? When in the regions of eternal snow a man feels intense pain from the biting cold, and encounters at every step the corpse of one who has been frozen to death by persistently disregarding the voice of nature, is it not suicide to continue? Can he say he received no admonition? Is not all pain a warning that some good law has been transgressed? Is it not a sentinel with a drawn sword to turn back the unwary from the precipice? Even so is the hardness of the way of the transgressor.


For the most part the word translated “good understanding” corresponds with that which, in a deep ethical sense, we call fine culture, which shows men how to take the right side, and in all circumstances to take the right key, exercise a kindly, heart-winning influence, not merely to the benefit of its possessor, but such as removes a partition wall, and brings men closer to each other. The word translated “hard” denotes that which stretches itself far, and with reference to time, that which remains the same during the course of time. That which does not change in time, continuing the same, according to its nature, strong, firm, thus becomes the designation of the enduring and the solid, whose quality remains always the same. The fundamental idea of remaining like itself, continuing, passes over into the idea of the firm, the hard, and, at the same time, of the uncultivated and the uncultivatible. The way of transgressors, or of the treacherous, i.e., the manner in which they transact with men, is stiff, as hard as stone, repulsive; they follow selfish views, never placing themselves in sympathy with the condition of their neighbour; they are without the tenderness which is connected with fine culture; they remain destitute of feeling in things which, as we say, would soften a stone,—Delitzsch.

Many seek favour as the gift of others which it is in their own power to give themselves. For, get a good understanding, whereby to understand well what thou goest about, and how to go about it. It is true, as Tertullian speaketh, now and then it falls out, that in a great tempest wherein sea and heaven are confounded, the haven is attained by a happy error; and now and then, in darkness, the way of entrance and going out is found by a blind happiness. But this is a favour which has no holdfast—it is a good understanding that giveth favour.—Jermin.

Is not the way of transgressors pleasant in prospect, although it ends in death? No; sin barters away future safety but does not secure present peace in return. Things are not always what they seem. The pleasures of sin are not only limited in their duration, they are lies even while they last.… The race is torture and the goal perdition.… But the right way is not a soft and silky path for the foot of man to tread upon; and, if one thing happens to all in the journey of life, what advantage have the good? Much every way, and specifically thus: The hardness which disciples experience in following their Lora is righteousness rubbing on their remaining lusts, and so wasting their deformities away; whereas the hardness of a transgressor’s way is a carnal mind in its impotent enmity dashing itself against the bosses of the Almighty’s buckler.… As the pains of cure differ from the pains of killing, so differs the salutary straitness which presses the entrance at the gates of life, from the hardness which hurts transgressors as they flee from God.—Arnot.

Sin, as of its nature, sinks always lower under bond (Proverbs 13:13), and must, therefore, de jure, be “perpetual” (see Miller’s rendering, in Critical Notes). For, strange enough, the man without “good intelligence,” i.e., the best kind of knowledge, neglects to act on what knowledge he has. The worst man has knowledge enough to save him—that is (to expound an averment which is only in one sense true), God’s goodness is such that if a man would use the light he had, he would start from that point, and be helped into the kingdom.—Miller.

Different senses have been affixed to these words—

1. “Good understanding showeth favour to others”—i.e., is mild and conciliatory, while the “way of transgressors is hard, unyielding, stern.

2. “Ingenuous manners procure favour; but rugged is the path of the artful”—i.e., exposing him to incessant difficulties, while open dealing makes a man’s way plain before him.

3. More probably the meaning in both parts of the verse terminates on the person’s self. Intelligent and sound judgment, by fitting a man to be a wise and useful counsellor, procures him favour. On the contrary, the “way of transgressors,” like “By-path Meadow” in the Pilgrim’s Progress, presents at its entrance all that is tempting to allure into it, but supplies no real enjoyment to the traveller in it at last.—Wardlaw.

Wicked men live under a hard taskmaster. “I was held before conversion,” said Augustine, “not with an iron chain, but with the obstinacy of my own will.” The philosophical infidel bears the same testimony. “I begin to fancy myself in a most deplorable condition, environed with the deepest darkness on every side” (Essays, I. 458). Voltaire, judging of course from his own heart, pronounces, “In man is more wretchedness than in all other animals put together. Man loves life, yet knows he must die.” “I wish,” continues this wretched witness for his master, “I had never been born.” The worldly infidel adds his seal to the record. Colonel Gardiner declared, that in his course of wickedness he had often envied the existence of a dog.—Bridges.

The hardness of the transgressor’s way.

I. A truth to be confirmed. It is hard to themselves—to others, to their families, their friends, to society.

II. A dispensation to be approved. It illustrates the mingled justice and mercy of God, who has made the way to hell difficult. The hardness of the way of sin is often the means of stopping sinners in their course. The sufferings of the wicked operate as a check and preservative to the righteous.

III. A warning to be enforced. Take care how you take the first step. Be anxious, if you have entered the road, to retrace your step. Remember that the hardness of the way is nothing to the bitterness of the end—S. Thodey.

Verse 16


Proverbs 13:16. Dealeth with knowledge, i.e. acteth with foresight. Layeth open, rather “spreadeth abroad.” Delitzsch Says, “There lies in the word something derisive; as the merchant unrolls and spreads out his wares in order to commend them, so the fool deals with his folly.”



For a definition of prudence see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 8:12-13, page 109. Carrying out the thought that prudence is wisdom applied to practice, we remark,

I. That a prudent man deals, or acts with knowledge from a sense of responsibility.

1. In commercial life. No prudent man will engage in any business transaction without first making himself thoroughly acquainted with it in all its bearings. He will, if possible, look far into the future and weigh probabilities and calculate results, so as to secure himself from ultimate loss. He will not deal with the matter at all unless he understands it. This we conceive is “dealing with knowledge.” And it is the course pursued by every prudent man of business from a sense of responsibility. He feels that he has obligations to fulfil to others and a character to maintain, and therefore he thinks before he acts. A man who values his life at all will not deliberately walk over a precipice, and a prudent man will not go very near the edge, he will know what is the safe distance at which he may walk without even risking the possibility of a false step.

2. As a teacher or leader of others. A man who undertakes the guidance of his fellow-creatures in any way, is especially bound to “deal with knowledge.” If he is a teacher of youth, and is a prudent man, he will make it his business to know his pupils, to become acquainted with the best methods of imparting instruction and developing their mental and moral powers. He feels that they are in his hands very much as clay in the hands of the potter, and that it depends very much upon him whether they become vessels of honour or of dishonour, and this invests all his dealings with them with a deep sense of responsibility. So with the statesman, the Christian teacher, or any other man who finds himself entrusted with influence over his fellows. Prudence is almost as necessary as goodness and right intentions. A man may have abundance of wealth at his disposal whereby to accomplish some desired end. But if he does not know how to use it, he may as surely miss his aim as if he were poor. So a man may have much spiritual wealth and an earnest desire to use it for the good of others, but if he is not a prudent man—if he neglects to acquire a knowledge of the how, and the when, and the where to do it, he may not only fail to realise his desire, but may cause his good to be evil spoken of. And the principle applies to every good man, however limited his sphere or humble his position. It is the special trade of a good man to do good, but he may greatly injure his trade by neglecting to “deal with knowledge.” “What king,” says our Lord, “going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand!” (Luke 14:31). It is implied that this man has a sense of the importance of the undertaking upon which he is about to embark, that he duly estimates the possible loss or gain which may result from it. He may serve as an illustration of what is meant by a prudent man “dealing with knowledge” in any and every step in life, whether it be apparently great or small, weighty or trivial. For there are no little things in human life—the greatest issues often hang upon what men ignorantly call trifles.

II. A fool by rash and inconsiderate conduct “layeth open” or “publishes” his folly. It is implied by contrasting him with the prudent man who “deals with knowledge” that he deals without it, that he leaps before he looks and walks in the dark when he might avail himself of a light to guide him. Such conduct arises from a lack of the sense of responsibility. He does not consider what is involved in his failure, how much misery may thus be entailed on himself and others. Every man who does not weigh results proves himself thereby to be a fool.


He that is wise will not be doing or dealing in anything unless he know what it is wherein he dealeth, and unless he deal so as he knoweth that he should. He knoweth that a man is known by his dealing. He knoweth that others look on his dealing, and therefore he looketh so to it as that they may know him to be wise by it. But a fool will be dealing, although by dealing he uncover his nakedness. The shame of his folly shall be spread abroad as wide as his dealings are heard of.—Jermin.

Observes circumstances, and deports himself with discretion; thrusts not himself into unnecessary dangers; carves not a piece of his heart but to those he is well assured of. See an instance of this prudence in Ezra, chap. Proverbs 8:22; in Nehemiah, chap. Proverbs 2:5. He calls it not the place of God’s worship—such an expression might have disgusted the heathen king—but the place of his father’s sepulchres. In Christ, when He was tried for His life; in Paul, who lived two years at Ephesus, and spake not much against the worship of their great goddess Diana (Acts 23:6; Acts 19:10).—Trapp.

Fools might be esteemed half-wise if they had sense enough to keep their folly to themselves.—Lawson.

Wide is the sphere for trading with this responsible talent. In the family economy (Judges 13:8-12; chap. Proverbs 14:1; Proverbs 31:27). In the church; in a wise accommodation to circumstances (Galatians 2:2); in the conviction of gainsayers (Titus 1:9); in forbearing with the prejudices of the weak (Acts 15:22-29); in the exercise of Christian admonition (Romans 15:14).—Bridges.

Verse 17



I. An important link in human society—a messenger. This link may or may not be important in himself. He may belong to the highest or to the lowest stratum of human life. He may be a princely ambassador, or he may be a telegraph boy. The link which holds two bodies together may be of great intrinsic value. It may be of wrought gold, and much skill may have been expended on its workmanship; but what it is in itself is not of so much importance as what it is as a link. Its beauty and costliness will not avail much if it gives way when it is subject to strain, and thereby causes loss and vexation to its owner. The link that holds the cable to the anchor is not in itself worth much; but when it holds an ironclad off a rocky coast, there hangs upon it half a million of money, and the sorrow or joy of many human hearts for years to come. Untold loss or gain depend upon whether that ring of iron can bear the strain or not. So it is with a messenger. He may be a person of great intellectual powers, and of great social importance, or he may not have either. But he is always of value in his relative position. Like the link in a cable, he always holds in his keeping more than he is. He may be the bearer of the secrets of one who has hanging upon his will an army of many thousands, and a nation of as many millions may be interested in the message which he bears. Whether he be prince or peasant is of no importance in comparison with the fact that he bears a message.

II. The one all-important qualification in a messenger—faithfulness. No greater praise can be given to a man than to say that he is faithful, yet nothing less will make him worth anything in human life. All men’s hopes for time and eternity rest upon the faithfulness of God. This is the sheet-anchor of humanity that He is “a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). That He is faithful that promised (Hebrews 10:10). It is for faithfulness, not for success, that He gives the “well done” (Matthew 25:21), to His servants. In a messenger it is the one thing needful, and its importance is increased in proportion to what hangs upon his message. Life or death may depend upon it, and often not the fate of an individual merely, but the destiny of a nation. An unfaithful messenger “falleth into mischief himself.” He who betrays his trust injures himself. He goes down in the moral scale. He loses his reputation, and is not trusted again. If the link in the cable gives way, it is itself broken. But this is not all, nor the worst. He is the cause of mischief falling upon others. How true is this in social life. A message, coloured in its delivery, to gratify some selfish purpose, may divide men who would have been friends, if it had not been for the third person. And its omission, through carelessness, may bring about a like mischief. And it is also true in national relationships. The ambassador, who is entrusted to express a nation’s will, may be a fruitful source of mischief if he is negligent or unwary when war and peace hang in the balance. Millions of hearts may be made sad by an under or an over statement of facts. “But a faithful messenger is health,” or “healing.” He is health in himself. A faithful messenger, apart from his official or representative character, is an embodiment of moral health, and when he is entrusted to make peace where there has been war, he is “healing.” He may be only a counsellor of peace between individual men who have been at strife, or he may be the bearer of terms of peace between hostile nations. But, whether in the one case or the other, the faithful discharge of his duties will bring healing: for all real peace must be founded on a truthful statement of facts. This verse is especially true of an ambassador of Christ. He who is truly sent of God will be faithful in the delivery of his message, and will thus bring healing to many. He will “not walk in craftiness, nor handle the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” And so he will be the means of bringing moral health (2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11).


Every man is a “messenger,” and has an errand, and that is as a witness for God (chap. Proverbs 14:25). The word for “messenger” is the word for “angel.” How soon did the wicked angel fall, when he became of no use? and men, how long do they tolerate a false messenger? The soul sent out by the Almighty, if wicked, shall fall; but a soul that is “faithful” is needed, and will hold its place.—Miller.

A wicked messenger hath no sooner a business committed unto him than he falleth into mischief, by betraying the trust reposed in him, and therefore justly doth mischief fall on him. He that is a faithful ambassador is, indeed, the ambassador of truth itself. He, being sent, hath healing under his wings, whereby he giveth soundness and health unto his business, whereby he giveth soundness and health to those that employed him. The proverbial sense is, That the good or bad success of a business proceedeth much from the goodness or badness of him that is employed in it.—Jermin.

How much more then, wicked ministers, those “messengers of the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:23) that do the Lord’s work negligently (Jeremiah 48:10), that corrupt His message (2 Corinthians 2:17). Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger? (Isaiah 42:19).—Trapp.

While the wicked messenger prepares misfortune for himself, as well as for his master, the faithful makes good even his Lord’s mistakes.—Von Gerlach.

Verse 18



I. Man needs instruction because his natural intuitions are not enough to meet the needs of human life. The instinct of the animal is enough to enable it to fulfil its destiny. Its limited powers find sufficient guidance in the use of the faculties which are born with it. But it is not so with man. If, as some philosophers suppose, a man comes into the world without any ideas, if he receives everything from the outside world, instruction is so much the more needed, but even if he does bring with him a small stock of knowledge, experience shows us that the amount is very small, and he needs instruction for body, soul, and spirit from the first day of his dawning intellect to the last of his probationary life.

II. Instruction is to be obtained. Somebody will teach him either directly or indirectly. He will learn much from observation and much from direct teaching. The word here, as in chap. Proverbs 12:1, includes the idea of correction. This forms an inevitable part of man’s instruction in matters relating both to his bodily and spiritual life. God has provided for man’s instruction in relation to his spiritual needs. It is within the reach of all men in a Christian nation (See Isaiah 55:1-3).

III. If he refuses what he needs, he will have what he does not desire. He will have poverty. This is a calamity when self-inflicted. Whatever is the outcome of sin must be a calamity. If a man refuses to submit to the correction and instruction of others in connection with matters relative to every-day life, he shuts himself up to his own ignorance and shuts out all possibility of advancing in any profession or calling. Therefore he must be poor in worldly wealth. And it is pre-eminently true of him who refuses the disciplinary instruction of God. Such a man must be poor in a spiritual sense throughout eternity. And this will bring shame. Shame is always the result of sin. There is no shame in being poor in material things when poverty is the outcome of righteousness, but there is shame in poverty which is the result of neglected opportunities. What is the root of this rejection of instruction? Is it not pride? (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 11:2, page 193; also on chap. Proverbs 12:1, page 246.)

IV. Reproof is instruction. This is implied here, and in many other passages in this book where the words are used interchangeably. A man who reproves us gives us information about ourselves. He lets us know how we appear in the eyes of others. This ought to be valued by us. We are too partial to see our own defects, therefore we ought to be glad when they are pointed out to us by another.

V. Taking reproof in a spirit of humility is the only road to honour. In the long run, men will give honour where honour is due. They will give their esteem, and respect, and confidence to men who, from moral or intellectual eminence, deserve it. And, as we have seen, this height can be reached only by those who are willing to be taught both by God and by man.


Poverty is in itself a want; but no misery unless shame be joined with it. Shame is in itself a misery; but much greater if joined with poverty, which hath no means to shelter or cover it. Now both are to him that refuseth instruction. For, indeed, instruction is a glorious treasure, offered and opened to him who hath need of it; and, therefore, to refuse it, what can it be but poverty and shame? And, though it be the too common fault of those that are great, either in riches or honour, to despise reproof, yet the most honour, the truest riches, are to those that embrace it. St. Bernard, therefore, writing unto a great person, but deserving reproof, saith “Charity hath forced me to reproof thee, which grieveth with thee, although thou be not grieved, and which pitieth thee, although thou pitieth not thyself, and therefore it doth lament the more, because thou dost not lament, who art to be lamented; therefore doth it pity thee the more, because thou dost not pity thyself, who art in so pitiful a condition.—Jermin.

Verse 19


Proverbs 13:19. Literally “quickened desire,” “a desire that has come to be.” Zöckler and Miller say this cannot be designed to express appeased desire,” but Delitzsch renders it “satisfied desire,” and Stuart agrees with him. The latter connects the second clause of the verse with the former, thus, “Yet it is an abomination for fools to depart from evil, therefore, they cannot be satisfied; while Delitzsch understands it to mean, “Because satisfied desire is sweet to the fool and his desires are evil, therefore he will not depart from evil.”


In common with most commentators we regard the first clause of this verse as embodying the same thought as that expressed in the last clause of Proverbs 13:12. We will therefore consider the last clause only.


This verse pourtrays a man whose character is most unnatural.

Proverbs 13:1. He is unnatural because he belies his origin. What should we say if we saw the son of a king taking delight in the society and in the pastimes of the most degraded men? Or if we saw a man finding his enjoyment in herding with the beasts of the field? We should judge that they had lost all sense of their high origin. The sinner who is in love with evil gives the lie to the historic fact that God made man in His own image.

Proverbs 13:2. He is unnatural, because he burdens himself unnecessarily. In other matters men are not wont to carry heavier burdens than they are obliged. They do not generally desire an increase of their load. They are content with what is allotted to them. The burdens of life that must be borne are numerous and heavy enough for men to bear, yet this moral fool must weigh himself down with the evil that he need not bear—the evil consequences of evil deeds. He prefers to carry about with him the burden of his guilt, and all its accompanying evils. As we saw in Proverbs 13:15, his way is hard, yet he pursues it. In the face of God’s expressed desire (Isaiah 55:7), that he should be rid of his burden, and although it weighs him to the earth “it is an abomination to the fool to depart from evil.”

Proverbs 13:3. He is unnatural, because he is an unnecessary burden on the heart of humanity. He burdens the hearts of God’s children. They sigh over him, because he is bad, and refuses to be better. They are weighed down with a sense of his present sad condition, and the retribution that awaits him. He is a burden to those who are less wicked than he, because he prevents their being better, and he adds to the burden of those who are as bad as himself, becauses he increases their guilt by yielding to their temptations.


The sentence that fulfilled desire does good to the soul appears commonplace; but it is comprehensive enough on the ground of Hebrews 11:0 to cheer even a dying person, and conceals the ethically significant truth that the blessedness of vision is measured by the degree and the longing of faith. But its application in its pairing with the last clause of the verse gives it quite another aspect. On this account, because the desire of the soul is pleasant in its fulfilment, fools abhor the renouncing of evil, for their desire is directed to that which is morally blameworthy, and the endeavour, which they closely and constantly adhere to, is to reach the attainment of this design.—Delitzsch.

A canon of interpretation in Proverbs is, In antithetical clauses an opposite member is often suppressed in one clause and has to be supplied from, the opposition of the other member in the corresponding clause (Gataker.) Thus, here, the desire of the wise or good being accomplished by their departing from evil is sweet to their soul, but as it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil, their desire being not accomplished is not sweet, nay, “it maketh the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Cf. Psalms 145:19 : “The Lord will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him.” As the wise desire the possession of the true good, and by departing from evil attain to it, so that it is “sweet to the soul,” so fools desire the possession of what is good and “sweet to the soul,” but shall have bitter and everlasting grief. Just as if there were two patients, both desiring health; the one avoiding forbidden foods, and using the prescribed drugs, would recover health, to his joy; the other, disliking the remedies, and indulging his appetite, would fail to recover and would die (Gejer). The reason why fools abominate to depart from evil is because evil is sweet to them.—Fausset.

I give three interpretations of this verse.

1. Solomon has been thought to express the sentiment that the final attainment and enjoyment of a desired good abundantly compensates for all the self-denial and difficulty endured in waiting for it. This is a truth of practical importance, holding out as it does encouragement to perseverance. And it is a truth which holds with unfailing certainty, in regard to spiritual blessings. But the fool cannot be persuaded to deny himself the gratification of the passing moment, even for the sake of the best and highest blessings and hopes.
2. Some render, “It is sweet to the soul to enjoy what we love; therefore it is an abomination” etc. Here the reason or principle is assigned, from which it arises that fools will not depart from evil. Their enjoyment is in it. They feel that there are pleasures in sin. These pleasures they love. And, as these pleasures arise from sin, sin is what they like; sin is sweet, and they will indulge their present propensities, for the sake of the present pleasure they yield.
3. “Desire,” subdued, restrained, or overcome “is sweet to the soul; but it is an abomination,” etc. According to this translation the former clause expresses the inward satisfaction arising from the successful curbing and subjugation of any sinful desire—any evil propensity. This forms a fine and striking antithesis to the second clause. While the good man can hardly enjoy a greater satisfaction than is imparted by the exercise of self-control, and the overcoming of any powerful and imperative desire that has tempted and endangered his virtue; on the contrary, to the ungodly, the exercise of self-restraint is irksome, the denial of any sinful propensity is misery. They “draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart-rope.” The character is portrayed with great spirit in the tenth Psalm.—Wardlaw.

A desire that has sprung up is sweet to the Soul. (See rendering in Critical Notes.) A sinner can get on comparatively well when a pious “desire” has been once enkindled. What is said of the lips of the strange woman dropping honey (chap. Proverbs 5:3) is true also in this case. The soul is so near to the sinner that if there is anything sweet to it it is easy to follow it on. The soul once converted and conceiving its first desire will follow it afterward. And, therefore, the Psalmist begs us to “taste and see” (Psalms 34:8), that we may have this first desire. But the unconverted man finds it loathsome to take the first step. His desires that have “come to be,” are of another nature. How can a man will when unwilling? “It is the first step which costs.”—Miller.

Verse 20



We have here:—

I. Habit, assimilation, and transformation.

1. Habit. A habit is formed by the constant repetition of an act. Walking is the constant repetition of an act. The child first gets courage to take a single step, that step leads to another, and by degrees he acquires the habit of walking. To walk with wise men is to have habitual intercourse with them, either through reading their written thoughts or by immediate contact with their living selves. As bodily walking is only acquired by practice, so it is in soul-walking—in mental and spiritual communion. It is at first difficult for the uninitiated to master the arguments of the wise and grasp the truths which they utter. But the power to do so comes by making the effort. If the wise men are morally wise, it may not be easy to apprehend Divine truth as they do with their keener spiritual perceptions. But constant intercourse and communion enables one to do so. The religious faculty—the conscience—is thus developed.

2. Assimilation. The law of assimilation is in operation within us and around us in the world of matter. The plant drinks in the moisture and chemical elements of the earth, and they are assimilated to itself and come forth in bud, and flower, and fruit. Man eats vegetable and animal food and it becomes flesh and bone. The man who walks with wiser men than himself imbibes their thoughts, and those thoughts become part of himself. As the health of the body depends upon the kind of food which it assimilates and its power of assimilation, so the health of the mind depends upon the character of the thoughts which it receives and its power of making them its own.

3. Transformation. It is implied that those here represented as walking are, when they begin their walk, comparatively ignorant. But a constant reception and assimilation of the wisdom of others, whether it be intellectual or moral wisdom, will in time transform the pupil into a teacher—the student into a master. The ignorant becomes in time a wise man. The strong animal life nourishes the weaker—the new born—life until the weak child becomes as strong as the parent. So in mind and soul life. Hence the constant repetition in this book of exhortations to receive instruction. The assimilating and transforming power of intercourse with the Fountain of all Wisdom by the reception of the Divine thoughts is thus set forth by Paul:—“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

II. That if our companionship is not a constructive influence, it will be destructive. It is implied that human beings will have companionship of some kind—that if a man does not “walk with wise men,” he will be “the companion of fools.”

1. Companionship is in early life the outcome of necessity. A child of foolish parents cannot help being “the companion of fools.” This is the sad portion of millions, and it is the destruction of millions in the sense that it is the cause of their missing the great end of life—to glorify and enjoy God.

2. But there is a companionship of choice. When a human being comes to years of maturity he chooses his companions. He cannot always choose his associates, for then “he must needs go out of the world.” And there is no necessity that those with whom duty compels him to associate should exert any evil influence upon his character. But “companion” evidently means him with whom he communes—a man whose society he chooses. And if this society is not morally good, a man begins to deteriorate from the first moment that he enters it. His choice of it is an indication of some moral flaw in his character, and is a strong presumption that he does not intend or desire to resist its destructive influence. If a sound apple is placed beside one that has begun to decay, nothing is needed to complete the work of destruction in both, but that they should remain in contact. An utter missing of all that makes life worth having—that which our Lord calls the “loss of the soul”—is the portion of every man who does not continually grow in moral wisdom. For there is no standing still. Neglect is ruin in most material things. The house that is not constantly repaired will be ruined by the constant action of the elements. A man is surrounded on all sides by adverse moral influences, and if he only neglects to grow he will die. And to grow he must “walk with the wise.”


The following statement was made to a Wesleyan minister by a young man under sentence of death: “I am the child of pious parents, who were connected with the Wesleyan body. At the age of 16, through their instrumentality, and under the preaching of the Gospel, I became the subject of religious impressions. These, in the course of time, were effaced; but I still continued to read the Bible and respect the Sabbath. One Lord’s Day I went to hear a celebrated minister deliver a discourse on ‘Prophecy.’ As I was returning I expressed to an acquaintance whom I met my admiration of the sermon. He replied that no doubt Mr.—was a superior orator, and it would afford him great pleasure to hear him discuss on any subject having a true claim upon the attention of a rational being; but that such was not the case with religion. A conversation followed, which led him to invite me to his house, to hear his reasons for disbelieving the Bible. There I met others, of a kindred spirit, and from that moment they were my principal, because my favourite, associates. I soon adopted all their opinions as my own, and used every effort in my power to diffuse our common views. I could at this moment almost say the bitterness of death is passed, if I were sure that no one had become an infidel through me. But I have too much reason to fear that many have. Before this time I had married a very respectable young woman, and had entered into business. I was, however, brought to ruin by my own folly and extravagance, and went to America. There, my principles not fully satisfying me, I read Watson’s Apology for the Bible, and similar works, and again avowed myself a believer in the Word of God. It was my bitter lot, however, soon to see that it is much more easy to renounce the principles of error than to cease from those evil practices of which they are the productive sources. It will not be wondered that, even after I had disavowed the creed of an infidel, I was confirmed in the habits of infidelity, and was still, on returning to my native land, ready to perpetrate any deed of darkness which the fury of passion might prompt, or the straits of poverty suggest. The act for which I may soon be suspended on the gallows is the final consummation of a wilful disbelief in the inspired record.” The minister continues, “I was often with him, and found him to possess an extensive acquaintance with the Scriptures, and a considerable knowledge of our religious poets. As the person at whom he fired, though severely wounded, was not killed, he seemed to the last to expect a reprieve. The governor of the gaol entered his cell half-an-hour before the time which had been fixed for his execution, saying, ‘I have a communication from the Secretary of State.’ A smile of hope played for a moment round his pallid face, but it seemed only as if to give the gloom of despair the opportunity of coming in deeper and more terrific shadows over his features, for the governor instantly added, ‘but there is nothing said respecting you—you must therefore die.’ We were again alone, and pacing his cell he said, with deep emotion, ‘It is then a fact that I must suffer the extreme penalty of the law. In a few minutes I shall be in eternity, my wife will be a widow, and my children will be fatherless, bearing part of my reproach, notwithstanding they had no part in my guilt.’ On his way to the place of execution we passed through the turnkey’s room. Seeing a lad seated in a distant corner, he went to him, and said, ‘Look at me, and learn never to stand in the way of the ungodly, nor to sit in the seat of the scorner of truth.’ ”—Evangelist.


The influence of society upon man is great, and was intended to be great. As the natural world is held together by the influence of matter upon matter by the law of gravitation, so the moral world is held together by the influence of mind upon mind. We are made to attract and to be attracted, to influence and to be influenced, to instruct and to be instructed. But this power of mind over mind is not a neutral power, it is necessarily great for evil or for good. Paul says that “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” There is nothing to be expected from evil companions but an increase of sin, and an increase of punishment. The best is a briar, the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge, which will rob us of our fleece, if they do not pierce our skin. Most likely they will do both.—S. Thodey.

The literal meaning of the word rahah, from which “companion” comes, is to feed; boon-companions, who feed together (chap. Proverbs 29:3). There is a play upon like Hebrew sounds, in “companion,” and “destroyed,” roheh and roang. The Greek Theognis says, “Thou shalt learn good from the good; but if thou wilt associate with the bad, thou shalt lose even the mind thou hast.” Seneca says, “The road is long by precept; it is short and effectual by example.” What one sees makes more impression than what one hears. As bad air injures the strongest health, so association with the bad injures the strongest mind.—Fausset.

What you learn from bad habits and from bad society you will never forget, and it will be a lasting pang to you. I tell you in all sincerity, not as in the excitement of speech, but as I would confess and have confessed before God, that I would give my right hand to-night if I could forget that which I have learned in evil society; if I could tear from my remembrance the scenes which I have witnessed, the transactions which have taken place before me.—J. B. Gough.

In the neighbourhood of Swansea, for miles round, no vegetation exists, owing to the smoke from the large copper-works there: even so, exposure to the influence of bad companions prevents man growing and flourishing in the divine life.—T. Jones.

It is not left to us to determine whether there shall be any influence; only, what that influence shall be. Joash, while he walked with his wise guardian, was wise. But when, after his guardian’s death, he became “a companion of fools,” he was “destroyed” (2 Chronicles 24:0) … The first warning to sinners just plucked out of the fire, was—“Save yourself from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40).—Bridges.

We shall never get the good “desire” (Proverbs 13:19) if we keep out among the wicked. In heathen lands all are “fools,” and therefore all do badly. In Christian lands piety is in circles and in families, and moves in lines. The mutual influences are immense. A noble way to be “wise” is to go boldly among the good, confess Christ, and ask their prayers and influence.—Miller.

It is better—safer, I am sure it is—to ride alone than to have a thief’s company; and such is a wicked man, who will rob thee of precious time, if he do thee no more mischief. The Nazarites, who might drink no wine, were also forbidden to eat grapes, of which wine is made. So we must not only avoid sin itself, but also the causes and occasions thereof, amongst which bad company (the lime-twigs of the devil) is the chiefest, especially to catch those natures which are most swayed by others.—Fuller.

Many scriptural illustrations press for notice. The family of Lot, suffering from the fearful contamination of Sodom; Rehoboam, following the counsel of his young companions in preference to that of the experienced counsellors of his father, and losing thereby five-sixths of his kingdom; Jehosaphat, associating with Ahab “helping the ungodly, and loving them that hated the Lord” (2 Chronicles 18:0; 2 Chronicles 19:1-2), “wrath, therefore, coming upon him from Jehovah.—Wardlaw.

It is not talking with the wise, but walking with the wise that will make you wise. It is not your commending and praising of the wise, but your walking with the wise that will make you wise. It is not your taking a few turns with the wise that will make you wise, but your walking with the wise that will make you wise. There is no getting much good by them that are good but by making them your ordinary and constant companions. Ah, friends! you should do as Joseph in Egypt, of whom the Scripture saith—Psalms 105:22—(according to the Hebrew phrase) that he tied the princes of Pharaoh’s court about his heart. If ever you would gain by the saints, you must bind them upon your souls. The Jews have a proverb that two dry sticks put to a green one will kindle it. The best way to be in a flame Godward, Christward, heavenward, and holinessward, is to be among the dry sticks, the kindle-coals, the saints, for as live coals kindle those that are dead, so lively Christians will heat and enliven those that are dead.—Brooks.

Character affected by intercourse. He that walks with religious men will become religious. Walking signifies a continued course of conduct. To walk with religious men is not to mingle with them occasionally, or to unite with them in performing some of the more public duties of religion. Ahithophel, who died as a fool dieth, walked with David to the house of God in company. It is not to live in a pious family, for a person may do this without making its members his associates. Nor does uniting with religious men in promoting some of the great objects which the Christian world is now pursuing, necessarily prove that we walk with them, for this may be done from a wrong motive. To walk with them is to choose them for our associates, our fellow travellers in the journey of life; and this implies an agreement with them in our views and objects of pursuit. Can two walk together, says the prophet, except they be agreed? In order that two persons may walk together they must be agreed, first, as to the place to which they will go, and secondly, they must agree in opinion as to the way that leads to that place. If they disagree on either point they will soon separate. Every religious man is travelling towards heaven, and all who would walk with them must make heaven the object of their pursuit. The only way to heaven is Jesus Christ, and all who walk with religious persons must at least assent to this truth although they may not immediately and cordially embrace it. He who perseveres in this course will become religious.

1. The simple fact that he chooses such associates proves that he as already the subject of religious impressions—that the Spirit of God is striving with him.
2. He will see and hear many things which powerfully tend to increase and perpetuate his serious impressions. He moves in a circle where God, the soul, and salvation are regarded as of supreme importance—where religion is presented to him—not as a cold abstraction, but living in the persons of its disciples.
3. No one will continue to walk with religious persons after his serious impressions are effaced, and it is presumed that no one who continued to be the subject of religious impressions for any length of time ever failed to become religious. It is true persons may be seriously affected, occasionally, and perhaps for years together, and at different seasons may associate much with religious characters without becoming religious; but such persons cannot be said to walk with good men in the sense of the text; for their religious impressions are often effaced for a considerable time, and long intervals of carelessness succeed, during which they, in a measure, forsake religious society.—Payson.

It is not for us to let our hearts have their own way in the selection of companions. On that choice depend interests too great to be safely left to chance. The issue to be decided is not what herd you shall graze with a few years before your spirit returns to the dust; but what moral element you shall move in during the few and evil days of your life, till your spirit returns to God who gave it. I like this companion; he fascinates me; I cannot want him; an enforced separation would be like tearing myself asunder. Well, if that companion’s heart be godless, and his steps already slipping backward and downward, why not tear yourself asunder? The act will be painful, no doubt, but “skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.”—Arnot.

He that comes where sweet spices and ointments are stirring, doth carry away some of the sweet savour, though he think not of it; so holiness is such an elixir as by contraction (if there be any disposition of goodness in the same metal), it will render it of the property, Trapp.

All sorts of companions are market men, and they usually traffic together, when they meet together, whether they be good or bad, the wares being commonly precious or vile, according to the dispositions of the persons who utter them.—Dod.

It is not said, he that sitteth still with the wise, for both sitting still, neither doth the one teach nor the other learn. But he that when a wise man walketh in the ways of wisdom, walketh also with him by following his example and steps, he it is that shall be wise. To be with the wise, and not in their ways of wisdom, is to be out in their ways of wisdom, is to be out of the way for getting any good by them. Be therefore with them so as that their wisdom may be with thee.—Jermin.

No person that is an enemy to God can be a friend to man. He that has already proved himself ungrateful to the Author of every blessing will not scruple, when it will serve his turn, to shake off a fellow-worm like himself. He may render you instrumental to his own purposes, but he will never benefit you.—Bishop Coleridge.

Verse 21



I. Evil pursues sinners because sinners pursue evil. The huntsman who pursues the hare in the direction of a precipice is pursuing a course which, if continued, must be followed by evil. It is an evil thing for him to follow such a trifle at such a risk. There is evil before him in the form of the precipice, and evil will follow if he continues to pursue his present course. Should he try his strength against the law of gravitation by leaping over the precipice, he will find that that law will exact its penalty. There are but two things that will prevent evil from pursuing him, either he must desist from his present course or a great law of nature must be suspended. The first alternative rests with himself, the second does not. He will find that this “battle is to the strong,” and that “this race is to the swift,” even to the mighty law which holds together the material universe. So with sinners against the moral law. “Evil be to him who evil thinks” is a wish that is always fulfilled. It is a law in constant operation. The consequence of pursuing evil in the form of evil thinking is evil thinking, the consequence of evil feeling is evil feeling, the consequence of evil doing is evil doing, for it is the tendency of evil to repeat itself, and this in itself is a punishment. Peter speaks of sinners who “cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14). They have sinned until they have bound themselves in fetters of sinful habit. Evil, in this sense, pursues them, and will pursue them so long as they pursue it. Then there is, of course, the positive retribution, which both in time and beyond time visits pursuers of evil. Of this we have several times treated.

II. Good men are repaid with good because their characters are righteous. The law of repayment runs through nature. He who sows seed is repaid by a harvest. All her forces—rain, sunlight, heat and cold—combine to give back to the husbandman that which he has entrusted to her care. And she repays of the same kind, wheat for the sowing of wheat, thistles for the planting of thistles. She also repays with liberal interest. One head of thistledown scattered over a field will reproduce a hundred heads in a few months. One grain of corn will produce an ear of thirty or forty grains. The law in the kingdom of nature is also the law of the kingdom of grace. Evil sown, as we have just seen under another metaphor, necessitates a reaping of evil. Good sown ensures a reaping of good. And grace is not behind nature in liberal repayment. He who sows handfuls shall reap armfuls. He that goes forth with the seed basket returns with sheaves (Psalms 126:6). The one “corn of wheat bears much fruit” (John 12:24). This repayment begins in time, and extends beyond it. Righteousness as well as sin is its own present reward, and is the present first fruits. But the righteous man must wait for the “resurrection of the just” for the abundant harvest.


Evil” is rapacious in its gains. Each inch “evil” holds. It never lets back any advance. It is versatile to tempt, and ruins with many instruments, while the good, however, have just the opposite lot. They gain by every advance. Each act that is holy in their lives is rewarded by better acts and higher holiness on through their whole probation,—nay, eternally! The pit is bottomless. But evil never ceases to hound sinners and make them worse.—Miller.

The representation here is very striking. “Evil pursueth sinners.” It follows them every step. It keeps pace with the progress of time. Each moment it comes nearer. Silent and unperceived it tracks them through their whole course. Insensibly it gains upon them; and at last—it may be suddenly and when least expected—it seizes and destroys them.—Wardlaw.

Not the smallest good, even “a cup of cold water to a disciple” (Matthew 10:42), or honour shown to his servants (Matthew 10:41; 1 Kings 17:16-23) shall “lose its reward” (Hebrews 6:10). And if a single act is thus remembered much more “a course, a fight held out to the end” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). How manifestly is this the constitution of grace; that when perfect obedience can claim no recompense (Luke 17:10), such unworthy, such defiled work should be so honoured with an infinite overwhelming acceptance.—Bridges.

To be out of the hands of evil is not to be free from it; for it still pursueth sinners, and it ceaseth not until it be gotten to the place where they are.… For, as St. Augustine saith, that God doth not forthwith avenge sinners is His patience, not His negligence. Wherefore it is to be feared lest by how much He stays the longer that we may repent, by so much He will punish us the more, if that we will not amend.—Jermin.

Caius—Agrippa having suffered imprisonment for wishing him emperor—when he came afterwards to the empire, the first thing he did was to prefer Agrippa, and give him a chain of gold as heavy as the chain of iron that was on him in prison. Those that lose anything for God He seals them a bill of exchange of a double return.—Trapp.

Verse 22



I. A good man has always spiritual inheritance to leave his children. He has always his own holy character and example. And this is often of great service to them in a material point of view. Men who have obtained fame in the world leave their children the inheritance of a famous name, which is often a fortune in itself. The son or daughter of a famous man can command positions of worldly advantage which are closed against the children of obscure parents. But while a famous father can leave his fame as an inheritance to his children he cannot ensure to them the possession of the genius by which he gained it. Talent is not hereditary, and it often happens that a very gifted father has very common-place children. But moral worth—a godly character—is an inheritance that not only makes a son respected in the world for his father’s sake, but is very likely to make him also a partaker of the same godliness. A good man’s character is not hereditary, but it is very apt to propagate other characters of the same kind. This inheritance of a good man is an incorruptible inheritance. No inheritance of lands or money are entirely out of reach of the changes and chances of human life, but the example, and the memory, and the blessings which have come from a godly parentage, make an inheritance which, like the heavenly one, “fadeth not away.” It is the best possible safeguard that a father can leave his children against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The remembrance of what belief in the Gospel did for a holy father has saved many a son from drifting on the quicksands of infidelity. There have been times in the history of many a child of godly parents, when such an anchor has been the only one which has held them from “making shipwreck of faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). The character of a good man is such an indisputable fact, and is so entirely unexplainable on any other ground than that of the existence of a supernatural and Divine power, that it constitutes an unanswerable argument for the truth of revelation. And so with every other form of evil that assails men. The inheritance which Christ has left to his disciples—to His spiritual children—is His character. This has produced and reproduced its own kind through all the ages since His sojourn upon earth. This has held them to the faith in the dark days of persecution. And when the infidel himself has come face to face with it, even he has been compelled to acknowledge the intrinsic worth of the children’s portion. This holy life, lived among sinful men, has been the “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8) of one Christian generation after another, for more than eighteen centuries, and it is by virtue of this inheritance that good men have been enabled to transmit to their posterity their own godly lives and examples.

II. A good man may have a material as well as a moral inheritance to bequeath. He may possess both character and substance. But the fact that a man is good is no guarantee that he will have any worldly wealth to leave behind him. If Lord Bacon’s assertion be correct, that “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, and adversity the blessing of the New,” he is quite as likely to die poor as rich. Still there is often a blessing of some amount of material riches given to honest labour, and probably there are far more godly men in proportion to their number, who acquire some inheritance to leave behind them, than there are godless men (See on Proverbs 13:11, etc.)

III. Good men sometimes inherit wealth which has been gathered by bad men. It is not a universal rule, but it may be oftener fulfilled than we are aware of. It may be inherited by generations of wicked men and at last come into the hands of a just one. That it should be so is seen to be a wise and good law of providence.

1. Because a good man will make a far better use of “the mammon of unrighteousness.” He will use it to minister to both the bodily and spiritual needs of his fellow-creatures as well as his own.

2. Because the laid-up wealth of the wicked has often been obtained by defrauding the good. God does not always cause it to be repaid to the identical persons who were thus defrauded, but He may often cause it to be restored to identical characters. This proverb must be taken to assert the straightforward motion of the wheels of providence, although by reason of their “great height” (Ezekiel 1:18),—their vast circumference—they take a long time to go round.


The usurer lightly begets blind children that cannot see to keep what their father left them. But when the father is gone to hell for gathering, the son often follows for scattering, But God is just.—T. Adams.

That the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just appears to have been a prominent feature of the Old Dispensation (chap. Proverbs 28:8; Job 27:16-17), and it will be openly renewed in the latter-day glory of the Church (Isaiah 61:6).—Bridges.

This is the direct promise of heaven (Psalms 103:17; Proverbs 22:6). That it ever fails, must be by palpable neglect. A man may be saved himself, and lose his children; but the Bible speaks of this as the parent’s fault (1 Samuel 3:13; Proverbs 13:24), and brands it as the great curse upon the earth (Malachi 4:6). While the sinner not only cannot send down his wealth, but cannot himself possess it. It is a curse to him. It will be used for the saints (Matthew 25:28).—Miller.

It is quite clear that in this and other passages an inheritance is regarded as a good, and that no blame is attached to “the good man” who leaves it to his children. The principle expressed in the latter clause is the same as that laid down by the apostle, “All things are yours,” and, among other things, “the world.” That may most truly be called mine, from which I derive the greatest possible benefit it can be made to yield. It would be strange, indeed, were I to wish anything else, or anything more.… The wicked man calls his wealth his own. But it is God’s. God is the friend of His children, and holds that property, like everything else, for their good; so that it is theirs by being His.—Wardlaw.

Personal goodness profiteth for posterity. God gives not to His servants some small annuity for life only, as great men used to do, but “keepeth mercy for thousands” of generations “of them that fear Him.” The opposite is not perpetually and universally true of every wicked person, … but, together with their lands, they bequeath their children their sins and punishments, which is far worse than that legacy of leprosy that Joab left his issue (2 Samuel 3:29).—Trapp.

An expression of trust like that in Ecclesiastes 2:26, that in the long run the anomalies of the world are rendered even.—Plumptre.

Verse 23


Proverbs 13:23. “Tillage,” rather “fallow ground” or “a new field,” land which requires hard labour.



I. That untilled land (see Critical Notes) possesses a latent power to produce food. There are many things in nature in which there exists a latent power to minister to man’s needs; but his hand must be put forth to arouse the sleeping power. There is heat in coal to warm him, but he must kindle the coal before it will put it forth. So in the earth, there are stores of life-giving power wrapped up in its bosom, but the hand of man must till it before it will yield him food. And it will yield food to the poor man as well as to the rich; his hard toil will be rewarded by receiving bread for his labour.

II. That though much food is to be got out of the land by the poor man, yet more is to be got out of it by the rich. This is implied in the contrast, though it is not directly expressed.—(See Fausset’s Note in the Comments.) The poor man cannot spend so much upon his land as the rich man can. He can give little beside hard labour, while the man who possesses wealth can call in every appliance to increase the fruitfulness of the land. It is well known that the more liberally a land is farmed the more abundant will be the crop.

III. Yet want of judgmenti.e., a sense of justice, often leads a rich man to neglect to cultivate his land so as to increase its power of yielding food. All landowners are responsible to God for a right use of His earth. Holding in their hands, as they do, the power of making food abundant or scarce, they have much for which to give an account to Him whose stewards they are. When they turn into hunting-grounds and parks for their own exclusive use acres of land which, if cultivated, would yield much food, and thus lighten the burdens of their poorer fellow-creatures, they “destroy it for want of judgment,” or “justice.”


By the rule of interpretation by the contrast of opposites, and by supplying the wanting member in one clause from its opposite expressed in the other clause, the sense is, “But there is food (wealth) possessed by rich men that is destroyed for want of honesty in its acquisition and its employment.” The poor man’s (honest) labour forms the contrast to the rich man’s “want of justice” in his acquisitions. The newly tilled land of the poor forms the contrast to the rich man’s possessions held for some time.—Fausset.

What is the practical or extended application? If talents lie inactive, or if their activity is not wisely directed, a rich harvest is destroyed for want of judgment. The same ruin flows from a neglect of religious advantages. The harvest of grace withers into a famine. Slothful professor! rouse thyself to till the ground; else thou wilt starve for want of food. Then let thy roused energy be directed by a sound judgment; for want of which, the fruits of industry, temporal, intellectual, and spiritual, will run to waste.—Bridges.

There seems an interesting connection between the former verse and this. Talk of inheritances! says the poor man, with his scanty means and daily hard toil; we have no inheritance, either from our fathers, or for our children: all is homely with us, and likely to remain so. Well, says Solomon, the poor man is not without his consolations, even of a temporal nature, “much food is in the tillage of the poor.” The maxim is not to be confined to the one kind of labour specified, but extends equally to all the different modes in which the poor make their daily bread. The poor peasant, who cultivates his plot industriously and by “the sweat of his brow,” will, through the Divine blessing, procure thereby an ample supply of food for himself and his family, and industry and tidy economy will make the cottage fireside and table snug and comfortable, and its lowly tenants will enjoy plenty, though in a plain and homely form. On the other hand, how often in the case of those who obtain inheritances may the poor see the saying verified, “There is that is destroyed for want of judgment.” By prodigality, by bad management, they waste their fortunes. Their lands are extensive, but unproductive; or if productive, the product is mis-spent and squandered; it goes, no one can tell how. To such persons the homely comfort of the poor is a just object of envy; far more, in many cases, than the wealth of the rich is to the poor.—Wardlaw.

The proverbial sense is, that a little is made much by God’s blessing and pains, and that much is made little by wickedness and carelessness.—Jermin.

Verse 24



I. Pain is a necessary instrument in human training. The rod is to be included in the means of education. Some natures need an experience of pain to quicken their mental capabilities. Sometimes children are like untilled land (see Proverbs 13:23), they have large capabilities lying dormant, which will not awaken unless they are subjected to severe discipline and punished for their shortcomings. And what is necessary in intellectual training is also necessary in moral training. Children must be made to feel that pain is the outcome of transgression, and evil habits must if possible be crushed while in the bud. They can be overcome then at the expense of far less suffering than when they have taken firmer hold, and the pain is as nothing compared with that which the habits themselves will inflict if they are allowed to go on through life and enthrall the soul entirely. A thorn which has but just entered the skin can be extracted with a very small amount of suffering, even by an unskilful hand; if left for a few days it may produce a festering wound; if not extracted at all, it may end in mortification. The fear of suffering is also a great preventive of sin. The Great Father of men uses it as an instrument to dissuade men from breaking His laws. He warns them, over and over again, of the suffering which they will bring upon themselves if they disobey His commands and their experience of the suffering that has followed sin in the past often leads them to avoid it in the future. And what is effectual in the training of men is effectual also with children. They will often avoid the repetition of an act which they know has brought them punishment before and will do so again. This fear of pain is not the highest motive for abstinence from wrong-doing, but in both the child and the man it may be the foundation of an upbuilding of character which shall by-and-by go on growing in goodness without this instrumentality.

II. That infliction of pain is compatible with the highest love, and is often a token of it. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that God scourges His children whenever He sees that they need it. And yet they have become His children only by the exercise of His own Infinite love. But we know that He chastens not for His pleasure, but for our profit (Hebrews 12:10); that He has love and wisdom enough to see the “far-off interest of tears.” So it is the father or mother, who truly loves his or her child, who is willing to undergo the present suffering of inflicting pain in order to ensure a future blessing to their children. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). What is true of the Divine parent is true also of the human. It follows—

III. That the neglect of chastisement is a proof of the want of real love. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.” What should we think of a father who would see his child bleed to death rather than bind up the wound, because in so doing he would inflict some present bodily pain upon the child, and some mental suffering upon himself? Or of the physician who would not use the knife to stop the progress of mortal disease because the patient shrinks from the incision, and he himself is averse to the sight of blood? We should say they were destroyers of life which had been entrusted to them to preserve. But what shall we say of a parent who is so fond of his child that he cannot inflict pain upon him now for deeds that, if repeated until they become habits, will ruin him for time and for eternity? Such sickly sentimentalism in a parent makes him unworthy of his name, and turns him who should have been his child’s highest earthly blessing into his direst curse. Many inmates of our gaols are there because they have been the victims of this so-called love; and when God sums up their misdeeds a large portion of the guilt will fall elsewhere than on the child cursed by such a parent.


Fond parents think it love (that spares the rod), but Divine wisdom calls it hatred.—-John Howe.

The discipline of our children must commence with self-discipline. Nature teaches us to love them much. But we want a controlling principle to teach us to love them wisely. The indulgence of our children has its root in self-indulgence.—Bridges.

This phrase “betimes,” or “early in the morning,” admonisheth parents to procure the means of their children’s welfare before all other matters; and, as it were, as soon as they rise out of their beds. The Lord be merciful to us for the neglect of this duty; for if we have any worldly business to do we go first about that, and then teach and instruct our children at our leisure. O reckless carelessness about the chiefest matters! Oh that as we use to feed our children in the morning so we could once be brought to instruct them also betimes.—Muffet.

Justice must be observed in the correction of children.

1. That there is a fault committed.
2. That the fault so committed deserveth punishment.
3. That the punishment do not exceed the quality of the fault, which will otherwise seem to rage and revenge rather than to chastise for amendment.—Spencer.

To spare the rod in the first clause being opposed to chastening in the second, by the rod must be meant not only that particular instrument of punishment, but everything besides that may prove the means of our correction and amendment. And by chastisement is here intended every instrument of correction, every means of effecting what we intend by chastising, whether it be reproof, restraint of liberty, disappointment of our children’s wills, or corporal punishment. By loving and hating is not here meant the exerting actually those passions in the heart, for then the text would be untrue, but the acting agreeably to the reason, and not the blindness of those passions; the producing such effects as are in God’s account, and in wise men’s too, and in our own when freed from partial prejudices; the consequences and fruits of love and hatred acting regularly, such as are commonly esteemed the effects of those two causes, whether they indeed proceed from them or no. For if we are to reckon of love or hatred by the effects, then it is easy to discern when parents hate their children, namely, when, through neglect or fondness, they permit them to enter on a course of ruin, and so let them fall into such miseries as the utmost hatred of their inveterate enemies could neither wish nor make them greater, whatever love there may be at the bottom. A mother is as much a murderess who stifles her child in a bed of roses as she that does it with a pillow-bear (pillow-case). The end and mischief is as great, though the means and instrument be not the same.—Bishop Fleetwood.

He that spareth the rod from his son maketh him to be his rod, wherewith he whips himself, and wherewith God whips both of them. It is better thy son should feel thy rod than thou feel the sorrow of his wicked life. And do not hate him in not correcting of him, lest he hate thee by thy not correcting of him, and God shew His hatred against both by His wrath upon you.—Jermin.

The Koh-i-noor diamond, when it came into the Queen’s possession, was a mis-shapen lump. It was very desirable to get its corners cut off and all its sides reduced to symmetry; but no unskilful hand was permitted to touch it. Men of science were summoned to consider its nature and capabilities. They examined the form of its crystals and the consistency of its parts. They considered the direction of the grain, and the side on which it would bear a pressure. With their instructions, the jewel was placed in the hands of an experienced lapidary, and by long, patient, careful labour, its sides were ground down to the desired proportions. The gem was hard, and needed a heavy pressure; the gem was precious, and every precaution was taken which science and skill could suggest to get it polished into shape without cracking it in the process. The effort was successful. The hard diamond was rubbed down into forms of beauty, and yet sustained no damage by the greatness of the pressure to which it was subjected. “Jewels, bright jewels,” in the form of little children, are the heritage which God gives to every parent. They are unshapely and need to be polished; they are brittle, and so liable to be permanently injured by the pressure; but they are stones of peculiar preciousness, and if they were successfully polished they would shine as stars for ever and ever, giving off, from their undimning edge, more brilliantly than other creatures can, the glory which they get from the Sun of Righteousness. Those who possess these diamonds in the rough should neither stike them unskilfully nor let them be uncut … Prayer and pains must go together in this difficult work. Lay the whole case before our Father in heaven; this will take the hardness out of the correction, without diminishing its strength.—Arnot.

Correction is a kind of cure, saith the philosopher (Arist. Ethic. lib. ii.), the likeliest way to save the child’s soul; where, yet, saith Bernard, it is the care of the child that is charged upon the parent, not the cure, that is God’s work alone.—Trapp.

In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer the will. To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must, with children, proceed by slow degrees, as they are able to bear it; but the subjecting of the will must be done at once, and the sooner the better; for, by neglecting timely correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy which are hardly ever conquered, and not without using such severity as would be as painful to me as to the child. I insist upon the conquering of the will betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education, without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. But when this is thoroughly done, a child is capable of being governed by the wisdom and piety of its parents till its own understanding comes to maturity, and the principles of religion have taken root in the mind.—Mrs. S. Wesley.

It is his rod that must be used, the rod of a parent, not the rod of a servant.—Henry.

Verse 25



I. The limited truth of the assertion in relation both to the righteous and the wicked. Read in the light of personal experience, and in the light of history, it is found true, and is found not true in the case of the righteous. Elijah ate to satisfaction beside the brook Cherith, while many of his idolatrous countrymen suffered want. But Paul was often in hunger (2 Corinthians 11:27), while Nero lived in luxury. Christians have died from hunger, and others have had all their bodily wants supplied all their lives, and sometimes by most remarkable providential interpositions. Godliness is often profitable in this sense for the “life that now is” (1 Timothy 4:8), but not always, and wickedness often brings a man literally to the condition of the prodigal when he would “fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat;” but many a wicked man, like him of the parable (Luke 16:19), have “fared sumptuously every day” from their cradle to their grave. To take our text as absolutely true of material food would be to contradict the testimony of Scripture itself.

II. Its absolute truth in relation to both characters.

1. That wickedness gives a man no real satisfaction is a fact of experience. Men have testified over and over again that while they lived in sin they knew nothing of real heartsatisfaction and rest, and have borne witness to the words of St. Augustine, who spoke from experience when he said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and the heart is restless till it finds rest in Thee.” A man who feeds upon unwholesome food is always in want, because that upon which he feeds is not suited to meet the demands of his physical frame, so is it with the soul of a godless man.

2. The history of the world testifies that it is so. The unrest of the ungodly is the explanation of much of the ambition, of many of the selfish schemes of some men, as well as of the voluntary asceticism, the self-imposed sufferings of others. The key to both is that they have spent “money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfieth not” (Isaiah 55:2). The teaching of Christ confirms it. Want was the condition of the prodigal; he wanted the bread which his father’s home and table alone could supply. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). On this subject see Dr. Arnot’s remarks on Proverbs 13:12 in the comments on that verse.

3. That there is satisfaction in sainthood is declared by Christ, and testified to be true by all His followers. The bread upon which a renewed man feeds is the Divine word—the thoughts of God in the abstract, and the personal thought or word Jesus Christ. “As the living Father hath sent Me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me shall live by Me” (John 6:57). And life is but another word for satisfaction. “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of His heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Millions of men and women in all circumstances, both poor and rich in worldly wealth, have set to their “seal that God is true” (John 3:33) when He invites men to “hearken diligently unto Him, and eat that which is good, and let their souls delight themselves in fatness” (Isaiah 55:2).


One of the confidences of the wicked is that he, at least, has his pleasure in this world. The inspired Solomon denies it. He himself has left us an experience (Ecclesiastes 1:0). The righteous man seeks righteousness and peace, and these things do satisfy him. He seeks them, not as the world does, under a mistake, but for what they really are. He seeks them more and more as he knows them better, and shall be seeking them and enjoying them through eternal ages. “But the wicked,” even in his “belly,” wants. His delights, even of the more carnal sort, are not to be directly gazed at. If they are, they vanish. He cannot trust himself to theorise over any solid pleasures. So hollow are they that he would not live over again the history of the past, and so poor that he grows tired of enjoying them.—Miller.

Have he more or less, he hath that which satisfies him. Nature is content with little, grace with less. If Jacob may have but “bread to eat and raiment to put on” it sufficeth him; and this he dare be bold to promise himself. Beg his bread he hopes he shall not, but if he should, he can say with Luther (who made many a meal of a broiled herring), “Let us be content to fare hard here: have we not the bread that came down from heaven?”—Trapp.

To have to eat is the common mercy of God, who openeth His hand and feedeth all things living. To have enough to eat is a great mercy in itself, and greater than man’s nature, which hath never enough of sinning anyway deserveth; but to be satisfied with that which is enough is a peculiar property bestowed on the righteous. The belly of the wicked wanting enough to eat in some degree is punished for feeding too greedily on the husks of sin. Wanting all food is more hardly punished, and it may be for the hardness of their hearts in resisting all instruction; but that it shall want though it have enough, this is a severe punishment of wickedness, though thought to be the least. The wise man doth not speak of the want of the mouth of the wicked as showing that the mouth should have Sufficient, and yet the belly be punished with want in not being satisfied.—Jermin.


“The true Christian education of children.”

(1) Its basis: God’s Word (Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 13:13-14);

(2) Its means: Love and strictness in inculcating God’s Word (Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 13:24);

(3) Its aim: Guidance of the youth to the promotion of his temporal and eternal welfare (Proverbs 13:2 sq. Proverbs 13:16 sq.)—Lange’s Commentary.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/proverbs-13.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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