I. SOME VICES OF SOCIETY.
1. Envious greed. (Ver. 12.) The wicked desires the "takings" of the evil. It is a general description of greedy strife and competition, one man trying to forestall another in the bargain, or to profit at the expense of his loss; a mutually destructive process, a grinding of egoistic passions against one another, so that there can be no mutual confidence nor peace (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21). The hard selfishness of business life, which may be worse than war, which elicits generosity and self-denial.
2. Tricks eye speech. (Ver. 13.) How much of this there is, in subtler forms than those of ancient life, in our day! Exaggerations of value, suppression of faults in articles of commerce, lying advertisements, coloured descriptions, etc., - all these are snares, distinct breaches of the moral law; and were they not compensated by truth and honesty in other directions, society must crumble.
3. Conceit of shrewdness (ver. 14) is a common mark of dishonest men. This may seem right in their own eyes, no matter what a correct moral judgment may have to say about it. There may lurk a profound immorality beneath the constant phrase, "It pays!" Want of principle never does pay, in God's sense. The seeming success on which such men pride themselves is not real. They laugh at the preacher, but expose themselves to a more profound derision.
4. Passion and impetuosity. (Ver. 16.) The temper unfits for social intercourse and business. Flaming out at the first provocation, it shows an absence of reflection and self-control. How many unhappy wounds have been inflicted, either in word or deed; how many opportunities lost, friendships broken, through mere temper!
5. Lying and deceit. (Ver. 17.) The teaching of the book harps upon this string again and again. For does not all evil reduce itself to a lie in its essence? And is not deceit or treachery in some form the real canker in a decaying society, the last cause of all calamity? "We are betrayed!" was the constant exclamation of the French soldiers during the last war, upon the occurrence of a defeat. But it is self-betrayal that is the most dangerous.
6. Foulness or violence of speech. (Ver. 18.) The speech of the fool is compared to the thrusts of a sword. Not only all abusive and violent language, but all that is wanting in tact, imagination of others' situation, is condemned.
7. Designing craft. (Ver. 20.) The wicked heart is a constant forge of mischief. And yet, after this catalogue of social ills, these moral diseases that prey upon the body of society and the state, let us be comforted in the recollection
(1) that all evil is transient (ver. 19); and
(2) that its just and appropriate punishment is inevitable.
The first and last of frauds with the wicked is that he has cheated himself and laid a train of malicious devices which will take effect upon his own soul certainly, whoever else may escape.
II. SOCIAL VIRTUES.
1. They are the condition of security to the practiser of them. The root of the righteous is firmly fixed (ver. 12). In time of distress he finds resources and means of escape (ver. 13).
2. They yield him a revenue of blessing. He reaps the good fruit of his wise counsels and pure speech. They come back to him in echoes - the words of truth he has spoken to others (Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 18:20). And so too with his good actions. They come back with blessing to him who sent them forth with a prayer (ver. 14). Spiritual investments bring certain if slow returns.
3. Some characteristics of virtue and wisdom enumerated.
(1) It is the part of wisdom to listen to all proffered advice, from any quarter, to discriminate and select that which is good, and then follow it (ver. 15). In critical times we ought, indeed, to find ourselves our own best counsellors, in the privacy of prayer, in communion with the Divine Spirit. But it is ever well to consult friends. Conversation with such wonderfully helps us to clear our own perceptions, resolve our own doubts, confirm our own right decisions.
(2) It is the part of prudence to ignore affronts (ver. 16), instead of hastily resenting them like the fool. A good illustration may be taken from Saul, as showing the contrast in the same person of wisdom and folly in this matter (1 Samuel 10:27 and 1 Samuel 20:30-33). In the heathen world, Socrates was a noble example of patience under injuries. He taught his disciples that the man who offered an unjust affront really more injured himself than him who received it; and that if the insulted person resented it, he did but place himself on a level with the aggressor. Either you have deserved the affront or you have not. If you have, submit to it as a chastisement; if you have not, content yourself with the testimony of your conscience. But above all, the example of our Saviour is the example for us, "who when he was reviled, reviled not again, but submitted himself to him that judgeth righteously." His whole behaviour at his trial should make a deeper impression upon us than a thousand arguments.
4. Truthful speech is one of the most eminent signs of virtue and godliness How constantly is this emphasized!
(1) Truthful and right speech can only proceed from the truthful mind. "He who breathes truth," says ver. 17, "utters right." We must make truth the atmosphere of our being, our very life itself, as in ancient thought the breath is identified with the life.
(2) Truthful and wise speech is also known by its effects (ver. 18). It heals, it brings salvation - correction to error, comfort to the wounded heart. Compare the picture of our Lord in the synagogue at Nazareth, and the words he quotes from Isaiah as expressive of the purport of his ministry (Luke 4:16, etc.).
(3) It is valid, abiding, permanent in value (ver. 19). Much in our knowledge is subject to the laws of change and growth. We grow out of the old and into the new. But the simple sentiments of piety and duty common to all good men are capable of no change, no decay. Of them all the good man will ever say, "So was it when I was a boy; so is it now I am a man; so let it be when I grow old!"
5. Joy, peace, and eternal safety are the portion of the wise and just (vers. 20, 21). Joy in the heart, peace in the home and amongst neighbours, safety here and hereafter. Translated into the language of the gospel, "Glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life!" (Romans 2:7). For in one word, he enjoys the favour of his God, and this contains all things (ver. 22). - J.
A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.
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