Chapter 10

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 10:1

"A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish son is the grief of his mother."

It is here in chapter 10, strictly speaking, that the proverbs begin. The preceding part of the book having been, to a great degree, addressed to youth, nothing can be more natural than the position of the first of these maxims; and indeed, independent of any such connection, its place is most appropriate.

The education of the young, the early training of the rising hopes of society and of the church, must begin at home, in the bosom of the family, under the parental roof, the parental eye, and the parental care and culture. In saying so, I cannot withhold my anathema from a system which, if it has gained any ground at all, has gained more than enough. It is a system which seeks to undermine the family, that most hallowed, most blessed, and most useful of all social ties. Under the plausible and fascinating name of SOCIALISM, it holds out promises at which men are ever prone to grab without giving mature thought (if any thought at all!) to the means of their fulfilment. It is a system that ought to be scouted and scowled out of existence by every man of virtue and every woman of chastity, by every friend to the blessings and the benefits of domestic life, and every lover of social order. It is a system which, with an imbecility of argument that is only equaled by its unblushing effrontery, ventures to propose as the sovereign panacea for all the disorder, crime, and misery of human life, a combination of such "worthy ingredients" as no God, no marriage, no property, universal atheism, universal prostitution, and the universal overthrow of the incentives to personal and domestic diligence, while giving all the encouragements to idleness and plunder. Every rightly thinking man will admit that if the sacred distinctions of domestic society were once destroyed, the order and the benefits of all society would quickly perish with them. But I must return from this digression.

Solomon begins with maxims for youth relative to their entrance into life: "A wise son makes a glad father." What does he mean by a wise son? Is it a child of precocious intellect, a superior scholar, taking up quickly the various branches of his education? Or is it one who learns readily how to conduct himself in the world--shrewd, sagacious, prudent, smart in all temporal concerns, holding out every fair promise of a good man of business, successful in earthly well-doing and prosperity? Do not suppose that by asking such questions it is my purpose to make light of indications like these. They are in themselves good; and where they are discovered, they cannot fail to be gratifying to parents.

But everyone who attends to the previous lessons of Proverbs, and to the general tenor of the Bible, will be satisfied that such qualifications are far from being those chiefly meant. Thus in the immediately preceding verses we have the maxim which repeats and embodies the lessons of all the nine chapters, "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding." A wise son, then, is one who early reveals this "fear of Yahweh" as having taken possession and assumed the dominion of his heart, who loves, reads, and understands God's word and who walks in God's ways.

We have a lesson here for parents. Let them see to it that they put spiritual interests first in their desires, efforts, and prayers in behalf of their children. Let them beware of all the biased and misguided influences of parental partiality that would lead them to overlook or palliate the evils discernible in the characters of their children. Let them beware of that easy, listless hoping for good in the future that would make them deal with present faults, even those of a serious description, with a seemingly kind but in reality cruel indulgence. Let the cords with which you draw them from evil to good be the cords of love, and let the rod with which you seek to drive folly from their hearts be the rod of love. On no account use it when it is not necessary, that is, when you can accomplish the desired effect without it; but do not withhold it when it is necessary, for the highest authority assures you, "He who spares the rod hates his child" (Prov. 13:24).

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Proverbs 10:14

"The wise lay up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near."

To lay up knowledge very obviously implies that value is set upon it. Men never think of seeking and accumulating what they regard as worthless; and in proportion as an object is prized will be the degree of eagerness with which it is pursued, and the jealous vigilance with which it is laid up and guarded.

Thus the miser. With what an eye of restless and eager covetousness does he look after the acquisition of the idol of his heart's desire! With what delight does he congratulate himself on his success! With what fervor does he add the increase to his treasures, carefully secreting them from all access but his own!

Consider the man of science. With a care incomparably more dignified and useful, he notes and records every fact and observation, whether of his own discovery and suggestion or of others. How he exults in every new acquisition to his store of knowledge! He lays all up in his mind, or, fearful of a treacherous memory, in safer modes of recording and preservation. Hints that lead to nothing at the time may lead to much afterwards. Someone in another generation may carry out into practical application, or into the formation of valuable theories, the facts and conjectures that are now "laid up" in apparent isolation for just such possible future use.

The true philosopher, to use a colloquial phrase, has all his eyes about him. He allows nothing to escape notice, and nothing, if he can help it, to pass into oblivion. He lays up knowledge.

But, alas, in this respect as in others, "the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light" (Luke 16:8). Surely, if such be the practice of the wise men of the world, much more ought it to be of the truly wise in regard to divine knowledge, the best and highest of all!

It is the Christian's duty to seek knowledge in all directions and by whatever helps he can find. It is his duty to "lay it up" for use--first for the purpose of self-improvement and self-direction, and then for the further purpose of enabling him to contribute to the instruction and guidance of others. And every Christian should make it a point of conscience to find out the particular sphere in which the knowledge he has laid up may be best turned to account for others' benefit--whether in the occupation of a Christian school, in that of a Sunday School teacher, or in any other more private or more public department.

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Proverbs 10:15

"The rich man's wealth is his strong city;
the destruction of the poor is their poverty."

Wealth is pursued in the general and rooted conviction that it draws everything in its train that heart could desire; as if it were the security for all that is necessary to the attainment and enjoyment of happiness, and the preservative from all that nature deprecates and dreads. It is a source of perfect security, a "strong city." It is evident that Solomon does not here express the sentiment that there actually is real security in the rich man's wealth, but only that he places confidence in it. This is clear from the connection in which the same words stand in 18:11: "The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own esteem."

No doubt the possession of riches preserves from the evils which are especially incident to poverty. However, even the protection from these is precarious, for riches themselves are every instant insecure. There are also multitudes of evils common to rich and poor alike of which riches offer no protection. They cannot keep out disease either of body or mind, or ward off personal afflictions. They cannot purchase exemption from the grave for the wife, child, parent, or friend. And if they are incompetent to ends like these, far less can they save the soul. Death--the "king of terrors," the "last enemy"--shall scale the walls of the "strong city" and surprise its occupant in the very citadel of his strength.

"The destruction of the poor is their poverty." The word rendered "destruction" is the same as in the preceding verse, and there it would be arbitrary to change the sense. Retaining it then, the words are capable of two meanings.

First, there are temptations peculiar to poverty as well as to riches. Agur was aware of these when he prayed, "Give me not poverty--lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God." He who gives way to such influences of poverty insures destruction as much as he who is "full and denies God, and says, Who is Yahweh?" (Prov. 30:8,9).

Second, as we found the preceding clause of the verse to refer to the state of mind--the confidence of safety--inspired by wealth, it seems fair and natural to understand the latter clause on a similar principle. "The destruction of the poor" will then mean, that which in their own eyes is their destruction, that which engenders their fears and apprehensions. They are ever apt to contrast their circumstances with those of their wealthy neighbors and to deplore their own poverty as that which keeps them down, depriving them of all good and exposing them to all evil. And without a doubt it is the source of many and heavy sufferings both in the way of privation and endurance.

But the poor may indulge their fears and make themselves unhappy without cause. Their forebodings may be more than groundless. If by their poverty they are exposed to some evils, they are exempted by it from others. If they but trust in God, they have a far surer ground of confidence than wealth can ever afford to the richest. The poor are under the eye and the care of that Providence who sees every sparrow that falls to the ground. "The name of Yahweh is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (Prov. 18:10). How much stronger and more impregnable it is than any which wealth can construct!

And as riches cannot save, poverty cannot hinder salvation. Let sin be ever more dreaded than all the ills of poverty. Remember, sin will do what poverty cannot do--it will ruin the soul.

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