Chapter 16

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 16:4

"Yahweh has made all things for himself,
yes, even the wicked for the day of evil."

This verse has occasioned no small difficulty to interpreters; and without doubt it is difficult. The former part of it, regarded as a general truth, is indeed involved in no perplexity. The perplexity lies in the latter.

We can be at no loss to admit the proposition that both in creation and in providence all things must ultimately prove for the glory of the Maker and Ruler of the universe. And this, in reality, appears to be the great truth conveyed, a truth which it would be as unreasonable to question as it would be impious. There is, there can be nothing which God makes, and nothing which God either does or permits to be done, which will not ultimately in one way or another be rendered instrumental to the furtherance of His glory. It is a truth that all God's works praise him, and in the end all God's ways shall praise him. He will bring a revenue of honor and adoration to himself from the whole and from every part.

The words of our verse have been rendered, "God has made everything for his purpose--or for its purpose." If we use the rendering "for his purpose," then the sense will be much the same as in our own translation--"all things for himself." If we use "for its purpose," then the sense will be (and it is a manifest truth) that everything in nature is designed and adapted for some special purpose, that is, to its appropriate end. And then there will be intended a comparison: that as God has made everything for its purpose, so also has He made even "the wicked for the day of evil."

But here lies the difficulty, the perplexing knot. In what sense has Yahweh--who has "made everything for Himself"--made the wicked for the day of evil? There are two things which it cannot mean. First, it cannot mean that God ever made a wicked creature. No rational creature ever came from His forming hand imbued with the principles of evil. That God has made creatures who have subsequently fallen and become wicked is a matter of fact. But God never either made a wicked creature or made a creature wicked. He never created a mind in a state of depravity, and never into a mind that was created pure did He infuse the principles of depravity. These things are far from God; let them be far from all our conceptions of Him!

Second, God never made an intelligent creature for the purpose of rendering that creature miserable, or, to use the common phrase, to damn him. The first end of God in creation is his own glory. It must be so, unless we can conceive of something to which that glory should give way as being of inferior consequence. The second end of God in creation is the gratification of his benevolence in the production of happiness. Why this benevolent God has permitted evil to enter into his creation is an inquiry too high for us. But the fact is certain; and we cannot hesitate in believing that God will, in the long run, make this part of his providential plan to produce the greatest amount of both glory to his name and benefit to the universal frame of being. But to think that God's end in bringing any intelligent creature into existence was that creature's misery is blasphemy. And to every mind that desires to cherish veneration and loves toward God, it is agony to even imagine it.

Setting such ideas aside, I would remark that much of the meaning of the whole clause depends on the sense we affix to "the day of evil."

1. It is generally understood, and I have myself been accustomed so to explain it, of the day of final visitation and suffering to the wicked themselves. Supposing this to be the meaning, the sentiment expressed will then be that Jehovah, having made and destined all things for Himself, will cause even wicked men (who for the time being may seem to be exceptions to that truth and to be counteracting the purpose of promoting his glory) to finally subserve that end in "the day of evil." This will be effected by their righteous punishment, that is, their final overthrow and destruction; and in His thus "reserving the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished," there is the same fitness as there is in any adaptation in nature or in providence.

The words, in this view of them, have been finely rendered by Archbishop Tillotson: "God has ordained everything to that which is fit to it; and the wicked He has ordained for the day of evil; that is, the wisdom of God has fitted one thing to another, punishment to sin, the evil day to the evil-doer." And thus, we may add, God will provide for the honor of his name and government. "What," says Paul, "if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared [fitted] for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory?" (Rom. 9:22,23).

We observe that those who are "prepared for destruction" are not said to be so prepared by God, as is said of the vessels of mercy whom "He had prepared beforehand for glory." No. The ungodly prepared themselves for destruction. And God forbears in inflicting punishment immediately and rather allows them to take their course and to work out their principles of evil with made infatuation to the uttermost, so that in that punishment when it is inflicted He may the more surely and effectually make His righteousness apparent.

2. But I am now inclined to doubt whether "the day of evil" has here this meaning at all. There is another, of which it is alike susceptible and which in the Scriptures it frequently bears, namely, the day of punitive visitation in the infliction of judicial vengeance in the course of God's providential administration. I question if the suffering of the wicked be intended and am disposed to refer the phrase to the instrumental agency of the wicked. The expression, "Yahweh has made all things for himself," will thus mean that He employs all as instruments in effecting his purposes; and that thus He makes the wicked a part of his agency, employing them--without at all interfering with their freedom and their responsibility--as the executioners of wrath when He "comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (Isa. 26:21). Yahweh thus, as the Psalmist states, renders their very passions the means of accomplishing his designs: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself" (Ps. 76:10).

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Proverbs 16:12

"It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness,
for a throne is established by righteousness."

This verse is susceptible of various interpretations. The first view presents a sentiment to which none can possibly refuse their assent: "For kings to commit wickedness is abomination, for the throne is established by righteousness." For any man to commit wickedness is an abomination, an abomination to God and to all holy creatures. And it is peculiarly so for those who hold stations of authority and influence. It is theirs to give the tone to public morals and manners. This invests them with a special responsibility.

The verse may also be read, "Let it be an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness." That is, kings ought to hold wickedness in abhorrence in their own conduct, whether personal or official. A distinction is at times made between the man and his office, or between the man personally and the man officially. This distinction, if pushed too far, may be very prejudicial. That private character has little or no connection with the discharge of public functions is surely a pernicious mistake. The two should, as far as possible, be in union. The best security for upright and correct official conduct is uprightness of private character. There never can be full confidence in a government in which its officers are destitute of principle in their private deportment. Principle in personal character will alone resist temptation to corrupt behavior in public office.

The third view is probably the right one: that "wickedness" in general "is an abomination to kings." Such wickedness ought to be, and in regard to every good king will be, "for the throne is established by righteousness." That such is the true meaning is likely from the verse that follows, which presents an evident contrast to this. A virtuous, flourishing, comfortable, and happy population will scare away from the throne all apprehensions of seditious and revolutionary movements. Such a people will wish for no change; and against any enemy that would introduce change, they will defend with their heart's blood the government under which they enjoy such prosperity.

Let it be laid down as a settled maxim that the best security of the throne is in the virtue of its subjects; that the diffusion of knowledge and of religious and moral principle is the best means of ensuring the loyal, peaceable, happy submission of the people. Equal laws, equal rights, equal privileges, equal favor to all in their respective departments of occupation, a fair field for everyone, and no partiality in either immunities or restrictions, in trade, in science, or in religion--all these will do much to produce this desirable condition of things. And the righteousness which exalts the nation will place its throne on a firm basis and surround it with the truest glory.

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Proverbs 16:20

"He who heeds the word wisely will find good,
and whoever trusts in Yahweh, happy is he."

Thorough understanding of business and prudent management of it tend to ensure a prosperous issue. And if the business is another's, the intelligent, cautious, successful conducting of it will procure benefit by the favor it conciliates and the character it establishes. One business conducted well brings a man another. This is the way to get forward in the world. And in proportion as the entrusted transaction is difficult and delicate will the "handling of it wisely" prove advantageous. Still, there is no amount of human understanding and discretion that can render success in any transaction certain. The result rests with God.

Hence there is a very natural connection of the latter clause with the former: "And (or but) whoever trusts in Yahweh, happy is he." Here is the true secret of happiness--the union, in all things, of prudence and diligence with trust in God. Trust must be associated with effort. And when, after all has been done within the limits of human power, it pleases God to withhold the blessing, our happiness lies in the faith that all is well, that God sees it to be so, and that had we the eye of God (the eye that "sees the end from the beginning") we would be fully satisfied with this. We would find that any change making the result more to our anticipations and wishes would have been for the worse.

It is also a comfort and satisfaction, when we are disappointed, to feel that we have "done what we could." Disappointment is thus resolved into the will of God, whose will, while sovereign, is ever determined by a wisdom incapable of error, a faithfulness incapable of failure, and a love incapable of any step really and ultimately injurious to its objects. And thus the heart is at rest in the Lord.

Let it further be observed that handling a matter wisely does not mean handling it cunningly--with artifice and what the apostle calls "fleshly wisdom," the policy of this world--but with a wisdom and prudence in harmony with the most rigid and straightforward integrity. Double-dealing may be misnamed wisdom, the arts of a tortuous cunning may be dignified with the designation of prudence, but when such wisdom and such prudence has been employed, even the greatest amount of success can impart little that deserves the name of happiness. There can be none where conscience interferes and inflicts its secret venomous sting.

No man who is using the arts of a crooked policy can exercise trust in God. The two are incompatible. Who can unite disobedience and confidence? What, act in opposition to the precepts of Him who "desires truth in the inward parts" and yet profess to trust in Him for success! Look for God's blessing on the violation of God's will! That were infatuation indeed! How could David trust in God for the success of his plan against Uriah the Hittite, a plan to accomplish adultery by murder? There was art in it, but there was not wisdom. The art was the art of hell, and success left a barb rankling in the soul.

In conclusion, if it be true that the man who trusts in Yahweh is happy, then do not lie against the truth by professing to trust and yet showing none of the peace and joy which such trust should inspire. If you betray the same anxiety, the same trepidation, the same fretful disquietude in disappointment that are shown by the men of the world, then they well may ask, "Where is your religion?" They may even go further and ask, "What do you do more than others?" Oh, manifest its happy tendency, doing your duty with active cheerfulness, blessing God if you succeed, and bowing and still blessing Him if you fail.

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Proverbs 16:32

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."

The best of all conquests is the conquest of one's self, and self-command is the most truly excellent and supreme. To indulge passion is easy, because it is natural. All of us, according to the tendencies of fallen nature, are prone to it. To follow the bent and tendency of our nature requires no struggle, and being common to all, involves no distinction. But to keep the passions in check--to bridle and to deny them, to subdue our enemy by kindness instead of letting loose our rage against him--requires the most severe efforts of virtuous and gracious principle.

The most contemptible fool on earth may send a challenge and incite a fight, and his readiness to do so will indeed be in proportion to his imbecility of mind. It requires no great amount of brains to quarrel and fight. But to lay passion under restraint, to keep down the risings of pride, not to be "overcome of evil but to overcome evil with good," all this demands a vigor of mind and decision of character far more difficult to acquire than the thoughtless courage that can stand the fire of an adversary. And even further, the man of self-control does a much better and more useful thing. Universal self-government, universal command of temper, would surely make an incomparably happier world than universal pride, universal resentment, universal courage, and universal strength!

How widely different are the maxims of the world from those sanctioned by the Word of God. According to the latter, the truly great man is not he who destroys and lays waste cities, desolates kingdoms, and wades through fields of bloody carnage in his ambitious aspirations. But it is he who succeeds in subjugating his passions, diffuses peace and happiness around him by meekness and gentleness, loves his enemies, does good to those who hate him, prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him (Matt. 5:44). He imitates the universal Father who "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45).

Let us aim for this mastery--the mastery of the passions, the government of self. And in order to gain this attainment, keep immediately in mind the need for divine grace and the sufficiency of it for everyone. There are no passions so strong, no temperaments so excitable as to be beyond the power of divine grace to overcome. That grace is promised in unqualified terms--and therefore in every case and to the full extent--to all who ask it.

At the same time let those of a more calm and composed temperament, those who have less violent passions than others, guard against two things: first, mistaking in themselves the mere gentleness of constitutional temper for the operation of God's Spirit; and second, being uncharitably severe on those whose temperament may be the opposite of their own, those who not having been restrained and subdued by early training may have been only further cherished in their touchiness and fiery violence by education and circumstances, and who in spite of this may have actually overcome in themselves more than have they of the naturally calm temperament, although much still remains to be subdued.

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