Chapter 19

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 19:2

"Also it is not good for a soul to be without knowledge,
and he sins who hastens with his feet."

It is quite sufficiently confirmed by experience that the tendency of not only self-ignorance but of ignorance in general is to produce that hastiness, that imprudent rashness, which is the natural and frequent cause of the commission of sin. A soul is a rational and intelligent spirit; and what is such a spirit without knowledge?

When God created man in his purity, his soul was instantly put in possession of "knowledge." This was the great good of his soul. We have every reason to believe that he was capable of enjoying, and did clearly and amply enjoy, the best of all knowledge, namely, the knowledge of God himself. From God he had received his sensitive and rational existence; the infinite concentration of all greatness and all goodness, of all purity and of all love; and the knowledge of the works of God as brought under his immediate or more remote awareness, with the character of God manifested in them to his observant and delighted mind.

By sin, however, there was introduced a knowledge which it would have been good for him to have continued without--the experimental knowledge of evil. This was what man obtained by listening to the temptation of Satan, a temptation holding out the deceitful promise that such knowledge would place him on a parity with the Most High--"Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." The temptation was one of apparent excellence and worth, but man became a fearful loser by consenting to it. His moral dispositions became perverted and opposed to God, and in the things of God his understanding became darkened. He did not like to retain God in his knowledge (Rom. 1:28), and the knowledge of God was lost. From that day to this, in every age and in every place, the truth of the words before us have been sadly experienced.

But now a knowledge of God has been manifested, one more appropriate to man's fallen condition, and to which the language of our verse must apply with peculiar emphasis. It is the knowledge of God in the great work of redemption. This is the knowledge which it is the main design of revelation to impart. And what does Jesus say respecting it, he who is himself the Word and Wisdom of God? "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Oh, can it then be good for a soul to be without this knowledge? We claim for this knowledge the very first place.

Yet even to general knowledge the words before us may be applied. It is not good for a soul to be without it. It gives better occupation to time, contributing to more usefulness and preventing that haste which leads to sin. But to render general knowledge usefulness in the highest sense and degree, it must be associated with the knowledge of God. To that it must all be subordinated. General knowledge must be principled by divine knowledge and directed by it in its application. Without right principle to guide the use of it, it may be only the means of enabling a man to be the more clever villain by endowing him with powers of evil and the resources and schemes for fraud and mischief.

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Proverbs 19:21

"There are many plans in a man's heart,
nevertheless Yahweh's counsel--that will stand."

This verse contains a very important truth, and one that may occasion many crosses and pains to the children of God now during their present experience. But in the final winding up of the entire system of God's providential administration, this truth will fill their minds with admiring satisfaction, their hearts with gratitude, and their lips with praise.

In the hearts of men are many plans, intentions, and resolutions, together with the means of their attainment. Nevertheless, God has counsels of His own, specific ends to work out. These counsels shall not only be accomplished in spite of the plans of men, but those very plans will be rendered subservient to the accomplishment of His purpose. In other words, all that is human shall be so directed and overruled as to effect what is divine. The examples of this in the Bible are many and striking, and they show forth the principles by which the divine administration of the government of the world is still--and shall be to the end--conducted.

First, consider the plan devised in the hearts of Joseph's brethren: "Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!'" (Gen. 37:20). These words were spoken with a bitter sneer. They were devising, as they thought, the most effectual means for frustrating all that Joseph's dreams had seemed to import. They would put an end to them now. And no doubt there would have been an end to them if their present purpose had been fulfilled. But it was not to be so. Other plans were suggested. "Shed no blood," said Reuben, "but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him." Then there was that of Judah: "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him." They thought this last plan would be as likely in bringing his presumptuous dreams to nothing as their first. But what was the result? The counsel of Yahweh--that stood. This act of theirs was the very means of accomplishing it. Twenty years later, how did Joseph speak to his brothers? "But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5).

Second, consider the plans executed by the wicked generation that crucified the Lord of glory. When they had taken counsel, successfully bribed Judas, taken Jesus prisoner, intimidated Pilate, obtained the sentence of death and nailed Jesus to the tree, did they by all this (carried out in the freedom and the guilt of their lawless passions) frustrate any purpose of heaven? No. The counsel of Yahweh--that stood. "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" (Acts 2:23).

And thus it is in every event. Yahweh, the Universal Ruler, carries forward the designs of His providence, great and small, in the midst of and by means of apparently conflicting, capricious, and random choices and determinations of agents who all the while feel themselves free--and who, in all that is necessary to moral responsibility, are free, acting under no mechanical impulses, but doing what they please as their disposition and motives influence them, without restraint and without compulsion!

"Such knowledge is too wonderful for us" (Ps. 139:6), Every attempt to comprehend it quite overpowers us. It is one of those many things in the moral world (as there are many also in the physical) which make us feel the limitation of our faculties, and if rightly considered and improved, may impress us with a becoming and wholesome humility.

We are naturally fond of our own plans, we fancy them wise. We anticipate the most beneficial results, and we dwell on this anticipation with delight. But impediments block our way. Obstacles present themselves, sometimes from quarters where least expected, and they bring about the bitterest disappointment. Our great difficulty then is to see the hand of God, to retain the firm conviction that all things are of Him. Yet it is assuredly so. Clouds and darkness may be round about Him (Ps. 97:2), but this is the trial of our faith. In the end all will be light. We will see that His counsel has stood, and that it has been well for us that ours have not.

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Proverbs 19:22

"What is desired in a man is kindness,
and a poor man is better than a liar."

The meaning commonly given to this verse is probably the true one--that kindness is to be measured by the amount of a man's desires to do good rather than by the amount of his ability. Any other manner of estimation would be most unfair in regard to a very numerous class of our fellowmen. There may be a great deal of genuine and generous kindness in the heart of a poor man who has nothing beyond desires and wishes in his power. The heart may be full when the hand is empty. In this respect the Bible principle is that of the purest equity--"It is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he does not have" (2 Cor. 8:12).

But let it be observed and remembered that there is a profession of sincerity without reality, when a man has the ability to be practically kind but confines himself merely to showing a desire to be so. In other words, love in word only is simply another phrase for no love at all. It is the clearest of all evidence that the desire is not sincere. In some cases we cheerfully take the will for the deed, knowing that there is a lack of ability to do what the heart wishes. In other cases we demand the deed as the only proof of the will, the gift as the only evidence of the love. The poor man, who is sincerely desirous of serving if only he had the power, is as much entitled to our lively and affectionate gratitude as if he had actually done the service.

Such seems to be the implication of the second clause of the verse, "and a poor man is better than a liar." The liar is the hypocritical and empty promiser, the man of many words but no deeds, of large and flattering assurances but no performance. The poor man who is sincere in his kind desires is better--himself better in the sterling principles of his character, and better to us in the comfort and satisfaction bestowed in our time of need--than the man who talks as if his whole heart were love but who proves by his conduct that his heart is all in his words, who gives us to expect much but from whom nothing is obtained, who turns out to be "a cloud without water."

Let us learn, first, to beware of all false, lying, hypocritical professions of kindness, of which the sincerity is not evinced by the gift and act. The mouth and the purse are far from being always equally open. On the contrary, it is often where the more is said that the least is done, and where the words are fewest that the most is received. Let us be among those who say little and do much, rather than be among those who say much and do little.

Further, let us learn to be just to all in our estimates of their kindness. We are in great danger of forming our estimate and cherishing our feelings of gratitude according to the amount of relief or benefit actually obtained and enjoyed by ourselves. Yet it is the kindness and not the mere gift considered in itself that should be the measure of our gratitude. When a man deprives himself in order to help us, even though he can do comparatively little, we are more indebted to him than to the man who may give grandly while leaving his abundance virtually untouched.

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