Chapter 9

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 9:7-12

"He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. . . . If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone."

These words are interpreted by some as cautions to the ministers of God's word and to other servants of God employed in inviting sinners to the feast. They are believed to signify that prudence and discrimination should be used according to men's different characters. To address personal rebukes to the obstinate scoffer, and to repeat and urge them, may in some cases serve no other end than that of their being provoked to repay your zeal with abuse and insult, and perhaps with calumny and slander. Or you yourself may even be provoked in the irritation and haste of an unguarded moment to utter things of which they may take an ungenerous hold, and which they may turn to their advantage in the most malicious and unmerciful way--to blast your character and mar your usefulness.

Perhaps, with still greater propriety, the verses may be expounded as containing a similar caution to those who do comply with the admonition to "forsake the foolish." One of the most natural and powerful feelings in the hearts of such persons is a deep concern for their former associates, an intense solicitude to do them good. They have experienced the true and exquisite delight of salvation; and having found the truth, peace, and joy that comes from it, they are apt to go forth and spread it in the cheerful assurance that what was so self-evidently divine and excellent to themselves could surely not be resisted by others. But they soon discover, as Melancthon did to his mortification and sorrow, that "Old Adam was too strong for young Melancthon." Therefore the warning is to exercise discretion, lest their love should only be repaid with hatred, and their zeal with such injury as may prove not only distressing merely to their feelings but prejudicial to their reputation and a hindrance in their efforts to do good.

But the verses may be, after all, just a simple statement of the way in which instruction and admonition do actually affect different persons. There are only two ways: they may be received wisely, with thankful affection to the reprover and compliance with his counsel, or they may be received foolishly, with scorn, resentment, and stubborn refusal. And in that case, verses 8 and 9 may be not so much direction or advice but simply a particular way of stating the fact that the scorner does hate his reprover while the wise man loves him.

In this last sense, the words connect beautifully with the closing terms of the address in verse 12: "If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone." That is, since my counsels must be treated in the one or the other of two ways, note the results of each: "If you be wise," that is, if you act the part of wisdom as here described, "you shall be wise for yourself." It shall turn out for your good; it shall be for your eternal benefit. "But if you scorn," that is, if you act the part of the scorner as here described, rejecting instruction and admonition, and repaying the good intentions of your reprover with hatred, "you alone shall bear it." The fearful consequences will be your own--yours only the loss, yours only the suffering, yours only the ruin. You have been warned, and your blood will be upon your own heads.

Thus is it with all in whose ears the warnings and invitations of wisdom have been faithfully sounded. They must "bear their iniquity" in the forfeiture of good and the endurance of merited evil.

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