Chapter 11

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 11:12

"He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor,
but a man of understanding holds his peace."

From the antithesis in the verse, it is evident that the word "despises" is not to be understood of secret and silent contempt, but of contempt expressed in words, actions, or looks. The man who is destitute of wisdom, or sound discretion, ridicules and exposes his neighbor for every little failing which he happens to find in him. In this he not only violates the royal law, but acts unwisely on his own account. The man of prudence--the wise man--holds his peace. He considers, in the first place, that everyone has his failings, and that he himself, therefore, does too; that though he might not be sensible of them, they are obvious enough to others. Under this impression he is tender toward others from a sense of his own defects and his liability to more.

He is further aware that by the expression or manifestation of scorn, he may bring upon himself odium and resentment, reaping as his merited reward a studied exclusion from the social circle. No man can be a more unpleasant member of society, in the private walks of life especially (of which free and confidential familiarity is the very zest), than the man who makes it his business to spy out failings.

The man of understanding, the man who has a proper regard for his own comfort and enjoyment, who duly appreciates the principle of "the golden rule" and considers how large an amount of the social happiness of mankind arises from things that are in themselves of minor importance, will lay a restraint upon himself and "hold his peace" even when the failings of others do not escape his notice.


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Proverbs 11:13

"A talebearer reveals secrets,
but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter."

The "talebearer" is one of the most odious and most mischievous of characters. He is the man with whom no secret is safe; who cannot be happy till he has let it out; who goes from one to another and from party to party puffed up with his knowledge and watching for just the right moment to introduce it; and who, when no such opportunity offers itself, being unable to contain himself any longer forces it in.

The propensity to reveal secrets is imputable to different causes. In the first place, we are ever apt to be vain of knowing what others are ignorant of. But this knowledge, of course, cannot be known to others and can procure no gratification to our vanity without disclosure! Then, further, we are equally apt to be vain of the confidence reposed in us, of our having been made the confidant of others, and especially when these are persons of any name and notoriety. This is a very self-contradictory vanity, for it is impossible to give indulgence to gossip without, in the very act of doing so, showing that the confidence placed in us and on which we are pluming ourselves has been misplaced! The very revealing of the secret is an avowal that we should not have been trusted--and a warning against trusting us again.

There are various ways of acting the "talebearer." There is that of open blabbing. And this, as it is the simplest, is in truth the least dangerous. The man's character becomes immediately known, and all who have secrets which they really wish kept will take care to withhold them from him.

There is next that of confidential communication. The secret-holder affects to look this way and that, to ascertain that no one is within hearing. And then with many whispered "doubts" whether he is doing right, and whispered "no doubts" that he is perfectly safe with the dear friend to whom he speaks, imparts it in a breath that enters only his solitary ear as a thing received in the profoundest secrecy and not on any account whatever to go further--to be kept still as the grave--and thus setting the example of broken confidence as the encouragement and inducement to keep it! Then he goes and finds out some other dear friend with whom the same scene is repeated.

There is also that of sly insinuation. The person who has the secret neither openly blabs it nor confidently whispers it. But he throws out hints of his having it--allusions more or less remote to its nature--by which curiosity is awakened, inquiry stimulated. And then the thing ultimately is brought to light while he who threw out the leading notices plumes himself on his having escaped the imputation of being a talebearer--he did not tell the story!

Now these, and whatever others there may be, are all bad; and the greater the amount of pretension and hypocrisy, so much the worse.

A "faithful spirit" is what all should cultivate and maintain at whatever risk or cost. Nevertheless, all should be cautious. It is very wrong, generally speaking, to come under an obligation to secrecy without knowing what it is that is about to be imparted. We may thus bring ourselves into a snare by entangling our consciences, for the secret may be something which ought not to be concealed. It may involve the interests of others. It may involve the cause of religion and the honor of God.

Beware, then, of rashly receiving secrets. It cannot be the duty of any man to keep a secret, which he has thus ignorantly and indiscreetly pledged himself to keep, on his discovering what it is and what are its bearings and results. Yet it may cost him a severe struggle to bring himself to break his word. To keep a secret of the description in question, however, would evidently be to add a greater sin to a less--to add to the sin of rashly committing ourselves, the further and heavier sin of allowing others to suffer undeservedly by our silence; or allowing the interests and honor of religion to be compromised and injured.

As for that man who is known as a gossip, who seeks out secrets with the purpose of exposing them, his just desert is to be shunned and detested, to be hissed and hooted out of society.


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Proverbs 11:29

"He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart."

There are many ways in which a man may "trouble his own house." He may do so by the violence and irritability, the peevishness, fretfulness, and selfishness of his temper. He may do so by his avarice on the one hand or his reckless prodigality on the other, either way involving his family in starvation and suffering. He may trouble his house by intemperance, with all its horrid consequences, or by sloth, idleness, and unwillingness to work.

"He will inherit the wind." The expression is a very strong one. Could any words more impressively convey the idea of loss, disappointment, and ultimate destitution and misery? Beggary shall be his portion. The result he himself deserves. The only evil to be lamented is that he brings the destitution upon his family too, which ought to have been his chief and constant concern. It often happens, however, in the providence of God and by the natural operation of human sympathy, that the family is looked after and provided for while the "troubler of his house" is left to the consequences of his guilt and folly.

"And the fool will be servant to the wise of heart." The meaning evidently is that the prudent and discreet, the just and good shall have the superiority. The highest ranking in station and influence--the mastery--shall be theirs. They advance in society while the foolish, the indiscreet, and unprincipled are left behind in the competitive race.


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