Chapter 24

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 24:11-12

"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?"

The duty directly enjoined is evidently that of standing with the oppressed. The case supposed and described is clearly that of a fellow man standing exposed to death from unrighteous oppression, false accusation, malicious prosecution, or persecution for conscience sake. And the duty incumbent upon us in such a case is that of doing all that lies in our power to deliver such.

We may be tempted to refrain from the discharge of this important duty for various reasons, but it clearly comes under the comprehensive law of love: "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12). We may dread the vengeance of the imperious and self-willed despot, the selfish and partial magistrate, the unjust judge, or the vindictive private prosecutor. We may be tempted to refrain by indolence that cannot be bothered, selfishness that says it is none of my business, or by avarice that shrinks from the risk of loss. But let all such excuses be well weighed. They may serve to suppress the demands of conscience now, but they will not stand in the judgment.

The spirit of this duty may be illustrated by a few Scripture examples. (1) Obadiah at the peril of his life hid the prophets of Yahweh from Ahab and Jezebel; (2) Jonathan placed himself between his exasperated father and the unjustly pursued and innocent David; (3) Esther ventured uninvited into the presence of the king to save her own people from the treachery of Haman; (4) the midwives of Pharaoh feared God and disobeyed the royal mandate to cast the male infants of the Israelites into the Nile; (5) The Ethiopian Ebedmelech went boldly to King Zedekiah to save Jeremiah; (6) and Aquila and Priscilla put their own lives in jeopardy for the preservation of Paul's.

And surely we must not fail to recognize our own responsibility as it concerns the present condition of sinners. They are drawn to death and ready to be slain, and how unutterably fearful is that death to which they are doomed! Oh, what should we not be ready to do, sacrifice, and suffer in attempting to rescue them! Let us turn now to some considerations enforcing this duty.

1. It is a duty of which the very nature ought to render it agreeable. It is a duty of benevolence.

In every case it ought to be a pleasure to have, and be able to put into operation, the means of doing good--not only temporal and secular merely but spiritual and eternal. In delivering one who was "ready to be slain," we raise up an agent for the deliverance of more. The benefit spreads. The rescue of one may be the rescue of thousands.

2. We have an account to give to God for the manner in which we have fulfilled this duty.

This is evidently the main point in the questions of the twelfth verse: "If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" How heinous to God must our guilt appear of leaving fellow-sinners to perish without even an attempt to rescue them!

The blessed God has shown His estimate of the worth of human souls by the ransom He has paid for them--the tears, agonies, and blood of Immanuel. How criminal in His sight must be all indifference! What an affront to Him to make light of the whole plan of redeeming grace. With Calvary before our eyes, we dare not plead indifference. Calvary bore testimony to the sinfulness of sin, the fearfulness of perdition for the sinner, and the preciousness of deliverance and life for him.

The plea of indifference on the part of a professed child of God is doubly inconsistent as well as strange. It would imply at once a supercilious disregard of the revealed judgment of God as well as the absence of rightly understanding the worth of his own soul. No sinner can be in a state of salvation himself and think, talk, and act with a spirit of cold-blooded heartlessness and unconcern about the salvation of his fellowmen!

We cannot plead ignorance of the worth of salvation when God has, by both word and action, so plainly and impressively declared it. Neither can we plead ignorance of the fact of others needing it. Many cases of oppression and wrong, of suffering and danger may exist around us without our "knowing" them. But to say "I knew it not" with regard to the guilt and misery and exposure to perdition of the mass of mankind, among whom we daily live and move about, is nothing but a lie--an unblushingly presumptuous falsehood. Thousands are perishing at our very doors and under our very eye. We see it, and we know it. The frequency of it is so great and the sight so constant that we are in danger of becoming so familiar with it as to lose all impression of the fearful fact.

3. Every plea by which we would vindicate or excuse our neglect would argue ingratitude to God for his kindness and grace to ourselves.

This seems to be the spirit of the expression, "He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?" When applied to the case referred to by Solomon--the case of temporal life exposed to hazard--does not God (without whom you could not draw a breath, and without whose bounty and goodness life would be a curse instead of a blessing) know your unfeeling neglect of the life of your fellowman? And "who makes you to differ?" Could not God at once reverse your respective circumstances? It evinces base ingratitude to the God who is the guardian of your life to be thus heartlessly unconcerned about the lives of others.

Let Christians apply this expostulation to higher interests. The life of your soul is in God's hands. He has given it; He sustains it. Is there anything more of unbecoming ingratitude to the author and sustainer of that immortal life than when you are listless and heedless about souls dying and dead around you?

4. Note the principle on which the judgment of the great day will be conducted. God will "render to every man according to his works."

This implies that a man's principles will be tested by his works; and foremost in rank will be the all-important work of caring for the souls of others. If this is not to be a distinguishing criterion, what else will? How shall we find our place on the right hand of the Judge if we have taken no interest in such matters, if we have allowed souls to perish around us without any concern to save them, if we have failed to do either the much or the little that was in our power? Have we not reason to ask ourselves, "with fear and trembling," whether God will in that day own us as His own?

Oh, remember what He who is to be the Judge has done for souls! And think how heavy, in His estimation, must be the guilt of neglecting and leaving them to perish! What evidence can they possibly produce in vindication of their professed faith who in this essential point so sadly fail of resemblance to Him? Can they be owned as disciples of Christ who allow the lost to remain in their lost estate with hardly a yearning wish or faint effort for their recovery?

It also implies that while the whole of the glory and blessedness of heaven will be the gift of grace, the Father will, as the testimony of His love to the Son and satisfaction in His work of redemption, bestow honor to believers in proportion to the amount of faithful service done for Christ's sake. And that amount will be estimated not absolutely but relatively; that is, relative to the amount of talent, opportunity, and means; so that in many instances the proportions will not be according to what appeared to men, but according to the righteous measure of divine knowledge. Thus, "many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Matt. 19:30).

Should we not then aspire to abound in acts of faithful and devoted service to our divine Master? Is it right in any servant of His to satisfy himself with the barest minimum just to prevent his being rejected? Would not the very exercise of such an attitude be sufficient to insure, or at least to warrant, his rejection? Rather, let us aspire to say, "Thy pound has gained ten pounds," by putting it to the best possible advantage for the Master and his cause.

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Proverbs 24:15-18

"Do not lie in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; do not plunder his resting place; for a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest Yahweh see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him."

This is an admonition to evil men to beware of all oppression and persecution of the good. The language is evidently not to be confined to persecution on account of particular crimes charged against them of which they are innocent, but to persecution on account of their very eminence in bearing testimony against the world.

"Do not plunder his resting place." Thus is his dwelling designated. It is the abode of love and peace, of quietness, holy harmony, and domestic joy. It is the place of his family altar around which are poured out the social devotions of a united and affectionate group, in tender and blessed mutual sympathy. Do not intrude with unhallowed foot and ruthless hand on this house of piety and love, this chosen resting place of affections.

The reason for not doing so is assigned in the next verse: "for a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity." It is quite clear that "fall" here means falling into calamity. Were there nothing else in proof of this, the antithesis between the two parts of the verse would suffice to show it. The sentiment of the verse is, that however often the righteous may thus fall by the hand of man, God is still with him, and he shall recover again. There are in Scripture many delightfully encouraging statements of the same general truth, full of comfort to God's people and full of fearful admonition to their enemies.

Even in the very midst of temporal sufferings there is a sustaining buoyancy in genuine principle. It rises like the lifeboat over the billows of tribulation. It may seem at times as if actually overwhelmed by them, but it emerges again with noble energy to ride out the storm. Such principle is of God. He inspires it; he exposes it to the test. He enables it to bear up and to triumph.

But I must not pass from these verses without observing how miserably they have been misapplied and abused. The falling has been interpreted of falling into sin, and they have been applied to the doctrine of final perseverance; meaning that however frequently and even however abhorrently the true believer may fall, he can never finally fall away so as to be lost.

It is easy to give such a statement an aspect of plausibility and weave it nicely into the tissue of the orthodox system. But in the Word of God final perseverance is not represented in such a light, and it is wrong to use the language in our verse in the way of accommodation. It should never be forgotten that the nature of argument or proof of doctrine in any passage cannot be taken further than the precise sense the Holy Spirit intended it to bear. It is not words but sentiment that can have any weight whatsoever in the way of evidence; and arguments founded on a different sense from that which the words were designed to express have in them absolutely nothing of substance. They are literally words and nothing more.

The application of this verse to final perseverance is mischievous in the extreme. Everything that holds out the slightest encouragement to confidence and ease of mind under even one fall into sin--much less repeated and many sins--must be so. There is nothing of this kind in the Bible. When sin has been committed there is warning and alarm, and that is all. The order of God is, "Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa. 58:1). Nowhere is there anything to be found that can be interpreted into an assurance of safety. And whatever is said in the Bible to guard against despair is said in such a way as to forbid presumption.

I can imagine no state of mind more antichristian and delusive than that of the professor who gets himself settled down in the conviction that no matter how often he falls he cannot finally fall away. His confidence rests on a sufficiently manifest fallacy. It supposes a man to have ascertained to a certainty his being in a state of grace independently of present evidence. "Once in grace, ever in grace" may in a certain sense express a Bible truth; but when so applied there is not a grosser or more pernicious anti-Bible error. Of present life there must be present evidence.

It would be a strange way of proving a tree to be now alive by enumerating all the fruit it had borne in former years. To prove it alive now you must show us the fruit it bears now. In like manner, it will not prove a man to be one of God's family now by showing how good he was before. The question is, What is he now? By his currently falling into sin we have as good a right to conclude that his former appearance of godliness was only a delusion as we have that his present appearance is one of temporary backsliding. And in the former conclusion there is less--much less--of danger than in the latter. Indeed, the devil could not suggest a more deadly conclusion.

Every fall into sin should give rise to serious and deep searching of heart, to self-suspicion, to humiliation, confession, and fear, to the tears and prayers of a broken and contrite spirit. Yet, strange to say, the words have taken on what is imagined to be a still more accepted meaning-- "the just man falls seven times in a day and rises up again!" But this is all the more pernicious in its tendency and effect.

Oh professing Christian, do not indulge in a delusive self-complacency or unwarrantable and presumptuous confidence in "former signs of grace" when you fall into sin. Rather, tremble at your peril, which is imminent. Call to mind the Lord's own words: "Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken Yahweh your God, and the fear of Me is not in you" (Jer. 2:19). "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent" (Rev. 2:5). "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19). "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. . . . for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-7, 10,11).

"But the wicked shall fall by calamity." No doubt the ultimate reference of the language is to the final and irremediable "calamity" into which the wicked shall fall, when the righteous shall have his reward and reap the fullness of his believing expectation. But the wicked persecutor may fall into calamity now. He may be brought by the providence of God into circumstances of trial and calamity, and that even by means of his violence against God's people.

And when such happens, an admonition is addressed to those righteous who had been the object of his rancor and violence: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." Such is the propensity of our corrupt nature. The injunction is in the highest degree spiritual. It condemns the inward feeling of satisfaction at the fall of an enemy, even when we have in no way contributed to bring it about. We may be inwardly delighted on learning that our enemy has met with what we call well-merited retribution.

But it must not be. The reason is in the next verse: "Lest Yahweh see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him." The import of this evidently is, lest the tokens of God's displeasure, which would have come upon your enemy, should be transferred to yourself; lest you, instead of he, should be made to bear them.

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