Chapter 12

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 12:15-16

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.
A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame."

We have brought before us afresh in verse 15 the distinguishing characteristics of folly on the one hand and wisdom on the other. That of the former is a proud, high-minded self-sufficiency that disdains all admonition, deems its own ways and plans ever and certainly the best, and must be in control. That of the latter is the self-diffident humility that seeks guidance, courts instruction, is ready to yield to good counsel at the hand of man, and renders entire and implicit submission to the mind and will of God, without which there is nothing that deserves the name of wisdom.

Another mark of folly is brought before us in verse 16: "A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame." The fool has no proper command of his passions. His self-sufficiency renders him impatient of all contradiction; he is irascible and headstrong. He is incapable of suppressing his anger from lack of self-control. He allows it to burst forth whatever the place, time, or circumstances, and it matters not in whose presence.

In contradistinction from the touchy and overbearing fool is "the prudent man who covers shame." Shame here means any affront. He does not, by his quick and blustering resentment, make it immediately known to all the world that he has been insulted and that he has felt it. He stifles his passion, restraining the bursting out of wrath lest he should utter hastily what may put him more to shame than any word or deed of insult ever could. The virtue here commended is that of self-control.

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Proverbs 12:23

"A prudent man conceals knowledge,
but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness."

The prudent man is not forward and ostentatious in the display of his knowledge. When he does bring it to attention, it is on suitable occasions (when it is really required) and in a suitable manner (not with vainglorious parade but with blended self-distrust and a measure of confidence proportioned to the amount of certainty).

There are persons with whom the growth of knowledge is only food for vanity. Every new acquisition pampers their self-conceit; and, indeed, it is sought after with that view in mind. The words of Paul, "knowledge puffs up," are true, resulting in a very abnormal state of mind--one filled with solid information but a heart distended with the emptiness of vanity. And this produces the pedant--the "know-it-all"--one of the most contemptible and disgusting of all characters; the man who is ever showing off, ever dwelling on his own themes in his own terms, and in every word, look, and movement courting notice to himself as the only object of his own admiration or worthy of the admiration of others. What a fool even the man of knowledge does at times make of himself!

Still it is true that the more extensive the knowledge a man acquires, he is, generally speaking, the more conscious of remaining ignorance; consequently he is the less vain. It is in the early stages of acquirement that self-sufficiency and conceit are most apparent. It is the "empty" who are usually the most prone to boastful vanity: "the heart of fools proclaims foolishness." The heart is the fountain from which the shallow, noisy, babbling stream of folly is ever welling out. It is the ready indulgence of the heart's intense propensity to talk that betrays the folly. The fool becomes thus the herald of his own emptiness. "Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise," says Solomon (Prov. 17:28). But then, alas, to hold his peace is exactly the difficulty! He will speak, and he cannot speak without making his folly apparent.

There is a connection in which the former part of the verse ought to be very cautiously interpreted. I mean in its relation to divine knowledge, or rather, the knowledge of divine truth. Even in regard to the use of that knowledge there is such a thing as prudence. There is such a thing as introducing religion inappropriately, in places and at times when its introduction is likely to do harm rather than good, such a thing as "casting our pearls before swine." And in many instances has this lack of discretion produced derision on the part of the enemies of religion.

And yet this ill-timed mistake of the well-meaning but weak and indiscreet Christian ought not to be used as a cover and apology (as we fear it too frequently is) for "concealing knowledge"--for refraining from speaking when a legitimate prudence does not at all impose silence. Oh let us beware of this extreme. "A word spoken in due season, how good it is!" (Prov. 15:23). Do not forget that our Master has said, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).

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Proverbs 12:28

"In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death."

These words have no meaning unless they are understood as implying and having reference to a future state. In one sense, you are all aware, there is death to the righteous as well as to the wicked, namely, a physical earthly death. But the righteous are in possession of spiritual life--a life which never dies. And there is a removal of all the tormenting fears associated with both of these deaths (the second "eternal" death imparting its terrors to the first "earthly" death) in the pathway of righteousness.

That pathway, remember, begins at Calvary, and your entrance on it must begin with faith in Jesus who died there. You must start on the pathway from the cross. There are a thousand paths to hell but only one to heaven. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13,14).

We are seeking your peace, present and future. We are seeking your peace for eternity, your peace with God, your peace with yourselves, peace of conscience. If any poor wanderer shall be prevailed upon to flee from the paths of sin, ungodliness, and the world, and to choose henceforth the way of life, my heart shall greatly rejoice. That joy shall be shared by all who have experienced the happiness and the hope of true religion, and by the spirit of the just and the angels of light above; for "there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:7).

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