Chapter 18

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 18:19

"A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city,
and contentions are like the bars of a castle."

The word offended evidently here means provoked, roused to resentment. And the words imply that when a brother is thus offended, the resentment is more violent and the reconciliation more hard to be effected than when the offense lies with a stranger. And so it is whether the offense be without just ground or with it. I might refer to the cases of Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brethren, Absalom and Amnon, and Esau and Jacob. In each of these cases nothing short of death was plotted and resolved.

The words contain a caution against offending as well as being offended, and it is assumed that offense has actually been taken as well as given.

A brother demonstrates this unseemly conduct when he reveals ingratitude for favors bestowed and fails to recognize the efforts and sacrifices made to promote his interests. These favors may have transpired over a long period of time, during which his irritating and offensive conduct has been passed over, although often repeated, leading finally to a rupture. Patience and forbearance have been worn out, and anger and alienation have been substituted for long-suffering affection. "A brother" thus "offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle."

The fact of the matter is here stated, and there are natural enough reasons to account for it. First, more is justly expected from a brother than from a stranger--more of affection, gratitude, kindly treatment, fidelity, and trustworthiness. When such expectations are disappointed, the wound in the spirit is proportionally deeper and more difficult of healing, and the breach is wider and harder to make up.

Also, the slower a person is to take offense--that is, the longer he forbears and the more he forgives, not wishing to break the bonds of brotherhood--the more entrenched may the spirit of resentment be, and the more hostile the alienation when it is actually produced. The offended brother cannot get beyond it. He broods over it, and the more he broods the more he feels. The more he reflects on the offender's violated obligations, the more aggravated does his culpability appear. But while he justly looks for acknowledgment, the offending brother thinks the less of his offense because it is only a brother against whom it has been committed. He is apt to expect forgiveness without acknowledgment of his wrong. Thus on both sides there is too much of stern unbending pride, and the rift widens instead of diminishing.

Persons are in danger of taking undue advantage of their near relationships. They are guilty of taking unaccountable liberty in forming and cherishing the most extravagant expectations, insisting on their fulfillment, and then absurdly and pertinaciously resenting their refusal. They do to a brother what they never would think of doing to another person. They forget that to use a brother in such an ill manner is worse than doing the same to a stranger. And the offended brother strongly feels it to be so.

It is indeed a sad sight when mutual alienation has actually taken place--when brother has cut brother off, when doors to communication are closed, and when family members make the quarrel their own by taking sides. Instead of each brother making the first attempt at reconciliation, he looks for the first step from the other. The castle bars remain down, rusting in place, and become more and more difficult to force open. Over time the unseemly contentions, the unhappy and mischievous feuds, pass down from generation to generation.

But it need not always be so. The grace of God, in all his children, ought to prevent such breaches. And if, unhappily, they have at any time taken place, it should have power to heal the wounds and draw the offended parties together once again. It becomes Christians to love and live as brethren, to be slow to give and slow to take offense, to be humble and ready to pardon, to delight in reconciliation and peace. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).

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Proverbs 18:24

"A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

This verse contains a lesson on how to retain friends, and a motive for so doing.

The lesson is one of consistency. Friendly dispositions of a kindred behavior must be shown towards those whom we call by the endearing designation of friends. If the man who has friends treats them with coldness, reserve, and aloofness, and should he go even beyond this to add neglect and selfish injury, then he has nothing to expect but the forfeiture of the friendship on their part. He constitutes himself unworthy of its blessings. He may complain of his friends having forsaken him, but he has no such right of complaint. The cause is in himself, the fault his own. He has driven them away or allowed them to drop off by neglect. He has behaved as if he no longer needed them. And if, after having lost them by his own fault, he should come afterward to experience his need of them, who is he to blame but himself? If those whom he has thus disenfranchised take compassion upon him and offer their restored intimacy and kind services, they act nobly; he has no cause to thank himself for it.

All friendships must, from their very nature, be voluntary on both sides, not founded merely in circumstances or conditions, but in character, harmony of mind and heart, and reciprocal esteem and love. If a man, on rising in the world, makes those who before were his friends feel themselves inferiors and dependents, friendship is at an end. There are few things more wounding to the spirit than the failure of those who have called themselves our friends. We may bear long with their seeming neglect or inconsistent dealings, finding excuses for them and being anxious to keep them in our favor, but there are limits to such good-natured forbearance, even to the charity which "believes and hopes all things." The man who has friends must, if he would keep them, show himself friendly.

What is the motive for keeping them? "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." There have been friendships of which the bond has proved itself stronger and more tenacious than even that of natural affection, that have withstood the most severe trials. Friends have remained fast in their friendship when brothers themselves have parted. This especially has been the case when the friendship has been cemented by grace, by the tie of a common faith, common affection, and a common hope in matters of religion. Such was the friendship between David and Jonathan.

The preciousness of such friendships has ever been felt, and has been the theme of story and song. It is unspeakably valuable to have a heart on which you can repose with confidence of tender interest, can speak with confidence of your most secret cares and desires, and will receive in return the same confiding love. What a support in trial is such a friend, what a guide in difficulty, stimulus in duty, solace in despondency!

If such be the sacredness, intimacy, pleasure, and permanence of true friendship, then with what gratitude should we bless the name of our gracious Lord for having assumed this relation to his people, calling them friends! He afforded the highest evidence that the designation was not without meaning--He gave his life for his friends (John 15:13). And what is his promise to them now? It is the promise of faithful friendship, of a love which many waters cannot not quench nor floods drown (Sng. 8:7). It is a promise that comprehends in it all that they can wish, all that they can need: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5). To have an interest in His friendship is to be honored and blessed indeed.

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