Chapter 4

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 4:12

"When you walk, your steps will not be hindered,
and when you run, you will not stumble."

The happy practical results of attention to parental counsel, and imbibing the principles and spirit of true wisdom, are expressed in verse 12: "When you walk," that is, in your daily walk, your course of conduct "will not be hindered." The word seems to express the case of one in difficulty and perplexity--contradictory impulses and obstacles pressing and hindering on every side, perpetually producing embarrassment and hesitation and uneasy apprehension, hedging up the way and hemming us in and destroying the freedom and the confidence of advancement. Such is the case of the man who walks according to the maxims of a worldly and carnal policy. He is ever at a loss. As circumstances are ever shifting, he is ever shifting his principles and plans to suit them, ever teasing and fretting himself with plans for this and the other end.

But the "wisdom that is from above" inspires a simplicity and unity of principle by which a vast amount of this agitating and painful perplexity is taken away, and liberty--delightful liberty--is imparted to the steps. This wisdom has one point alone to ascertain: what the will of the Lord is. Once that point is discovered, the mind is instantly at rest. The path is clear, the step free, bold, fearless.

Then, "when you run, you will not stumble." May not this refer to cases of urgency, cases calling for instant decision and prompt action? He whose mind is implicitly subject to the divine authority and direction, who is well informed in God's word and familiar with its contents, whose eye is single and whose principle is one, who looks not to the dictates of an unwise policy but simply to God's will and God's glory, will not be often at a loss or in great danger of making false steps even when taken suddenly and unawares. He will be ready at all times and in all emergencies for action. His duty will be done while another is hesitating and considering, looking to results and balancing probabilities, and who, if necessitated to act on the instant, will be in great danger of stumbling, of hitting on some wrong and far from advisable expedient.

In the character of the former--the man of principle--there is a firmness, a steadiness, a consistent uniformity of conduct which appears in all circumstances, however different and contrary. His course does not shift with the wind. He is under no necessity of tacking from side to side and accommodating his course to every changing current of air, like the vessel that must reach her point by the dexterous and ever varying management of sails and rudder. But like the ship that is impelled by the marvelous might of steam, he goes forward against wind and tide and current, direct to his destination.

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Proverbs 4:14-15

"Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil.
Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on."

All who have, or ever have had, the charge of the young, must be aware of the natural predisposition to evil. Account for it as you will, the fact is beyond question, established by the recorded experience of all the thousands of years of the world's history. Were the original bent of our nature to good, the difficulty would be to persuade to evil. It would require the arts of temptation to instill an evil thought, to suggest an evil wish, to induce speaking an evil word or doing an evil act. But the difficulty lies all on the other side. How very easy it is to teach a child to sin! Indeed, it may be questioned if it requires teaching at all for a child to lie, steal, cheat, swear; to be proud, selfish, vindictive; to pursue the world, to disregard and forget God.

How difficult the reverse! What unremitting vigilance is demanded in instructing, admonishing, persuading, expostulating, correcting, plying all the arts of fear and love, in "training a child in the way he should go!" (Prov. 22:6). Sin is a contagious disease, of which there is a predisposition in the moral constitution of our fallen nature to catch the infection. Parents are solicitous (and dutifully solicitous) to keep their children from exposure to the contact of bodily disease. Oh, how much more anxiously should they dread their exposure to the contagion of sin, worldliness, and folly!

Parents may well adopt, with affectionate earnestness, the terms of dissuasive expostulation in these verses: "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on." The language is strong; but to none who know the amount of the danger will it appear at all stronger than the case warrants. It implies an intense propensity in youth to be self-confident, to see no danger, to flatter themselves with possessing sufficient powers of resistance, and to please themselves by proving parents wrong in their grave predictions of danger.

Many a youth has lived to repent his adventurous self-ignorance and foolhardiness. Sin is like a whirlpool. He who once ventures within the circle of its eddying waters--in the self-sufficient assurance that he may go a certain length and then turn back at his pleasure, resisting the increasing pull--may feel the fancied strength of his moral resolution. But in the moment of need, weakness will almost certainly carry him further and further until, all power of resistance failing, he is carried round and round with increasing speed and sucked into the central gulf of irrecoverable perdition!

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