How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!
We see the moral order of God revealed in the character and life of men in various ways. Their conduct has a good or evil effect on themselves, on their fellows, and is exposed to Divine judgment. Let us take these in their order.
I. THE REFLEXIVE EFFECT OF MAN'S CONDUCT.
1. Wisdom is enriching (ver. 16). To acquire it is better than ordinary wealth (Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10, 11, 19).
2. Rectitude is safety (ver. 17). It is a levelled and an even way, the way of the honest and good man; not, indeed, always to his own feeling, but in the highest view, "He that treads it, trusting surely to the right, shall find before his journey closes he is close upon the shining table lands to which our God himself is Sun and Noon." The only true way of self-preservation is the way of right.
3. The truth of contrast (ver. 18). Pride foretells ruin; the haughty spirit, overthrow and destruction (Proverbs 15:25, 33). The thunderbolts strike the lofty summits, and leave unharmed the kneeling vale; shiver the oak, and pass harmless over the drooping flower. We are ever safe upon our knees, or in the attitude of prayer. A second contrast appears in ver. 19. The holy life with scant fare better than a proud fortune erected on unjust gains,
"He that is down need fear no fall; He that is low, no pride."
4. The effect of religious principle (ver. 20). We need constantly to carry all conduct into this highest light, or trace it to this deepest root. Piety here includes two things:
(1) obedience to positive command;
(2) living trust in the personal God.
Happiness and salvation are the fruit. "I have had many things in my hands, and have lost them all. Whatever I have been able to place in God's hands, I still possess" (Luther).
II. EFFECTS IS RELATION TO OTHERS.
1. The good man is pleasing to others (vers. 21, 24). There is a grace on his lips, a charm in his conversation, in a "speech alway with grace, seasoned with salt." How gladly men listened to our great Exemplar, both in public and in private! Thus, too, the good man sweetens instruction, and furthers its willing reception in the mind of his listeners.
2. He earns a good reputation for sense, discretion, prudence (vers. 21, 22). And this not only adds to his own happiness (for we cannot be happy without the good will of our fellows), but it gives weight to his teaching (ver. 23). The teacher can produce little effect whose words stand not out in relief from the background of character. The true emphasis is supplied by the life.
3. The contrast (ver. 22). The folly of fools is self-chastising. The fool makes himself disagreeable to others; even if he chances upon a sound word or right action, it is devoid of the value and weight which only character can give. He incurs prejudice and opposition on every hand, sows thorns in his own path, and invites his own destruction.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT IN ALL. Every one of these effects marks in its way the expression of the Divine will, the laws of a Divine order. But, above all, the end determines the value of choice and the quality of life. The great distinction between the seeming and the real is the distinction between facts as they appear in the light of our passions, our wishes, our lusts, our various illusions and self-deceptions, and facts as they are in the clear daylight of eternal truth and a judgment which cannot err (ver. 25). To guard against the fatal illusions that beset us, we should ask:
1. Is this course of conduct according to the definite rules of conduct as they are laid down in God's Word?
2. Is it according to the best examples of piety? Above all, is it Christ-like, God-like? - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!