Chapter 22

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 22:3

"A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself,
but the simple pass on and are punished."

Prudence is a contraction of providence; and providence literally means foresight, seeing before, looking forward. Such, you perceive, is precisely its import in this verse.

It is true that man is not endowed with prescience. He has memory, by which he retains (though that very imperfectly) the remembrance of the past. But of the future he can know nothing with certainty. The events of the future are beyond his vision. Hence it is that prophecy is among the evidences of inspiration, or divine commission. When Yahweh challenged the gods of the heathen to produce evidence of their pretensions to divinity, He said, "Let them show us things to come" (Isa. 41:21-24). Prophecy is a miracle, a miracle of knowledge. When a prediction is delivered in proof of an accompanying testimony or message, the subsequent fulfillment of the prediction is satisfactory evidence of its having indeed come from God.

But even though man does not have prescience, he may yet often sagaciously forecast the future. Let him compare the way circumstances operated in former times with similar ones now existing, observe the tempers and dispositions of persons on whom these circumstances exert their influence, and consider the probability with which certain events will lead to certain other events. In such a manner he may form in many cases a very shrewd anticipation of what is to come.

As we learn to discern the "signs of the sky," we may also learn to interpret "the signs of the times," in what is private as well as public. And a large amount of what we are accustomed to understand by prudence consists in thus forecasting the future--anticipating evils before they arrive in order to make provision for avoiding them; or if they are such as cannot entirely be shunned, then for meeting them to the best advantage in order to mitigate at the very least their pernicious consequences.

The prudent man who thus foresees the evil and hides himself is like the skillful mariner who discerns the tokens of a coming storm (of which the inexperienced are unaware), and who moves into whatever harbor is within reach before the tempest gathers and bursts upon the deep. He is in contrast to the simple, who pass on and are punished.

The word "punished" in our verse does not seem to mean judicial infliction but simply suffering the injury and damage (whether in person or property) which is the natural result of imprudence, or the of lack of foresight and forethought. Let us take two men going down a road together. Danger is approaching, and the one, looking ahead, sees it coming and turns aside till it passes. But the other, entirely heedless of the danger until it is too late, suffers the consequences. Or think of two travelers passing through a country abounding with wild beasts. One of them, acquainted with the danger and knowing the haunts and ways of the different animals, has all his eyes about him, ever on the lookout ahead and on either side, avoiding this path and choosing another, moving cautiously and treading softly. The other, ignorant of the danger and of the precautions necessary for safety, goes forward heedlessly and falls an immediate victim to his rashness. So is it with "the prudent" and "the simple" in the journey of life.

But it is not true that prudence never fails of its objective. It does. There is a Providence that is above human prudence. And often it happens that that Providence orders events in ways that are quite opposite to the conjectures of the most sagacious foresight. All sayings like the one before us are necessarily of a general character.

Let us apply the maxim, as it is justly and strongly capable of being applied, to spiritual and eternal interests. These interests can be reduced to a simple question of prudence--a question of profit and loss. It would be well if we could prevail on men to take up the matter in this light, to bring to a fair reckoning the concerns of the soul and the body, of time and eternity. It would be well if we could get them to apply just one-tenth of the earnestness with which they take stock and balance their books in business affairs to the eternal affairs of their soul. Oh, the imprudence--the wanton, criminal, self-destroying imprudence of leaving your account with God unexamined and unsettled, allowing the debit side to increase day after day while on the credit side you have nothing!--literally nothing!--all debt and nothing with which to pay!

Will you venture to leave your prospects for eternity in so ruinous a position? Do you not know that there is no account from which your debts can be paid except that of "the unsearchable riches of Christ?" Will you refuse to avail yourself of those riches that are open to you for that very purpose? When the time comes to settle accounts for eternity, will you meet it empty-handed?

There is nothing that can cancel the charges of guilt against you in the book of God's remembrance except an interest in the blood and righteousness of the one Mediator; and will you remain without that interest and allow death and judgment to find you with all your guilt upon your head through your rejection and neglect of the atonement? Are you content to find yourself without a justifying righteousness because you slight and disregard the one which has been provided for you? Will you "pass on and be punished" when you have the means of deliverance at hand, the means of reconciliation and security?

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Proverbs 22:24-25

"Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go,
lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul."

In this wise and prudent admonition, it is evident that by friendship is to be understood intimacy--the alliance of mutual trust and confidence, and the free familiarity and interchange of mind and heart. By an angry man is meant a man of hot, fiery, passionate temperament.

For the comfort of personal and domestic life, there are few things more important than looking carefully to the tempers of those whom we choose as intimates, either with ourselves or at the fireside in the circle of family privacy and love. Whatever other qualifications a man may have that are fitted to make his society agreeable and tempt us choose it (and they may be many and attractive), temper may more than neutralize the whole.

Nothing can be more painful than a state of incessant apprehension of awakening slumbering fires, the sudden kindling of some latent combustibles, so that instead of unreserved and open freedom (which is the very life and soul of friendship), every word must be carefully weighed before it is uttered lest it should prove a spark and cause an explosion. It is insufferably irksome to be always under such restraint and ever in the midst of such risks of touching the secret springs of hasty passion.

And the consequences are mischievous. Not only will intimacy with such men (men who are easily angered and quarrelsome) put us in danger of getting involved in numberless feuds with them, but it will do what is worse--involve us in feuds with others through their means. We shall not be able, however desirous we are, to live in peace, which is the first and best of the blessings in social life to a good man.

But another and greater hazard is mentioned in the latter verse: "lest you learn his ways." It may seem strange that we should be in danger of learning what we feel to be so very disagreeable. And yet we may. As already hinted, a passionate man may have interesting and attractive qualities otherwise. Now in proportion as we either admire or love him for these, will be the hazard of our thinking the less evil of his one defect and trying to excuse it and smile at it. And there is no little truth in the saying that we either are like our friends and intimates, or will soon be.

But more than this, the sudden and often unreasonable heats of the passionate man are ever apt to fret and irritate our spirits, and thus to form a habit of resemblance by the very reaction we have to his hot and hasty temper. And thus, from being good-natured and agreeable, we may gradually become very much the reverse.

This is a "snare to the soul." It not only affects the comfort and tranquility of our own minds and social enjoyments, but our spiritual interests. Angry passions "war against the soul." They are inconsistent with the principles of the truth of God and with the precepts and example of our divine Master. "The fruit of the Spirit is love" (Gal. 5:22).

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