Proverbs 13:20

We have here a topic which comes very close home to us all, but especially to the young.

I. GOD HAS GIVEN US GREAT POWER OVER ONE ANOTHER. There are two sources of power we exercise.

1. That of ideas. As we speak or write to one another, we impart ideas to the mind; and as thought lies beneath feeling, and feeling beneath character and conduct (see homily on Proverbs 12:5), it is clearly of the gravest consequence what ideas we do instil into the mind of another. These ideas include information or knowledge, the presentation of motive and inducement, new aspects in which things are regarded, new views and conceptions of life, etc.

2. That of influence. As we associate with one another, we influence one another by

(1) the character which commands respect;

(2) affectionateness of disposition;

(3) charm of manner;

(4) strength of will;

(5) superiority in age or in social position;

(6) facility and force of utterance.

All these are elements of influence; they are sometimes united, and in combination they become a great moral force.

II. CLOSENESS OF INTIMACY SHOWS THIS POWER AT ITS HEIGHT. When two "walk together because they are agreed;" when there is a close and intimate union of heart. with heart, of mind with mind, - there is an opening for the exertion of a power immeasurably great. Friendship has done more than anything else to enlarge or to warp the mind, to save or to betray the soul, to bless or to corrupt the life. The influence of a beloved friend or of a favourite author is wholly beyond calculation, and is almost beyond exaggeration. We give ourselves to one another; we impress our mind upon one another; we draw one another up or we drag one another down. Hence -

III. IT IS OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE THAT WE CHOOSE OUR FRIENDS WELL. The friendships we form will either make or mar us. We shall certainly be conformed in spirit and in character to those whom we admit to the sanctuary of our soul; our lives will move with theirs toward the same goal; and we shall share their destiny for good or evil. How needful, then, that we bring to this choice our whole intelligence, our greatest care, that we do not let the accidents of locality or family connection or business association decide the intimacies of our life! There is no action on which our future more decisively depends than on this choice we make; let youth and young manhood (womanhood) look well to it. He that walketh with wise men will himself be wise, and he will reap all the fruits of wisdom; but the companion of fools, of those who fear not God and who honour not man, of the irreligious and the immoral, will be destroyed with a terrible, because a spiritual, destruction.

IV. HOW WISE TO WALK THE PATH OF LIFE WITH A. DIVINE FRIEND! - with him who himself is "the Wisdom of God;" intimacy with whom will draw our spirit up toward all that is worthiest and noblest; whose presence will ensure guardianship from all serious evil, and enrichment with every true blessing, and will gladden with all pure and lasting joy. - C.

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
I. WHAT IS IT TO WALK WITH WISE MEN? It is to choose persons of that character for our intimate friends, and voluntarily join in their company and conversation. Walking is the motion which one chooseth. Walking with a person denoteth a friendly communication and delightful society, taking him into our councils, intimating our difficulties to him, seeking his advice and depending on his aid. The mere involuntary presence with the vicious, or being unwillingly deprived of the society of the good, is not a trespass against the rule here recommended. It may be necessary for good men to converse familiarly with the wicked, yet this may be without a participation in their crimes. Our Saviour conversed with publicans and sinners: The present state of human affairs requireth that we associate with men of all characters. And, in nearer relations, scarce is there any so happy as to be free from the company of fools. On the other hand, it is not to be supposed that the mere advantage of any man's providential situation will entitle him to the benefit of walking with wise men. The necessary thing is voluntarily to associate, and of choice enter into intimacies of friendship with the wise. Men of all capacities and conditions show a desire for conversation and society. Everybody wants company. Agreeableness of character and disposition directeth men's choice of company. Walking with wise men imports the improvement of conversation for the purposes of wisdom. Our choice should be determined with regard to virtue.

II. THE INFLUENCE AND EFFICACY OF WALKING WITH WISE MEN AS A MEANS OF ATTAINING WISDOM. Company has a great share in forming the tempers and manners of men. The influence is explained by —

1. A desire to be agreeable to those we converse with. This is powerful in human nature. The desire of approbation is strong.

2. The force of example. Mankind is prone to imitation. To represent religion in precepts does not so powerfully move the affections as when we see it delineated in life. The rules of religious virtue are reduced to practice in men of like passions with us, who also were "compassed" about with infirmities. Though their example is but imperfect, yet it is very worthy of our imitation, and most sensibly reproaches our failures. The nearer the example is the greater force it has. We are specially influenced, not by the example of saints and martyrs, but by the less celebrated instances of piety and virtue in our own familiar acquaintance.Practical reflections:

1. Wise, that is, virtuous and good men, are a great blessing to the world, though they are frequently despised in it. Good lives are the most effectual preachers of righteousness, and continually solicit men to reform.

2. Bad men are not only useless to the greatest purposes of life, but mischievous in society.

3. We ought to be very careful in the choice of our friends and intimate companions. It is not every kind of familiarity among men that is worthy the sacred name of friendship. When founded on selfish, corrupt affections and passions, it is not only vicious, but humoursome, precarious, and inconstant, yielding no solid and abiding pleasure.

(J. Abernethy, M.A.)

Conversation has ever had a mighty influence on the conduct of human life. The regulation of it has, in all ages, demanded the utmost prudence and caution.

I. MEN GENERALLY BECOME SUCH AS THE COMPANY THEY KEEP. All men are naturally lovers of themselves, and therefore the most effectual way of endearing and obliging one another is by mutual respects and compliances: no man can make his court more effectually to another than by falling in with him in opinion and practice, approving his judgment, and observing his inclinations: this is that which flatters our self-love, the predominant principle in our natures; this is that which renders society agreeable and friendship lasting. Ere we can be pleased ourselves, or please others, we must be mutually fashioned and moulded into an agreement and conformity of principles and morals, we must be acted and governed by the same affections and inclinations, and moved and led by the same desires and passions. Hence the proposition that men generally are such as their companions are. Two things in wise men never fail to work upon their friends and acquaintances.

1. Good discourse. What light, what strength, what pleasure does it minister! How it awakens the conscience and purifies the heart! "The lips of the wise disperse knowledge." Such discourse "ministers grace unto the hearers."

2. Good example. Virtue never appears so beautiful and lovely as in action. It is represented with much more life in the practice of a wise and good man than it can be in rules and precepts. The excellences and perfections of a friend are very strong incitements to emulation and very sensible reproofs of our remissness. A good life in a companion is certainly a mighty motive and encouragement for us. We see in him not only what we ought to do, but what we may do. Whatever is possible to him is possible to us.As to the influence of bad company, it is clear that sin is catching and infectious; ill principles and practices are soon propagated.

1. Sin is the cement of the friendships and intimacies of sinners.

2. Ill company naturally instils and propagates vicious principles, worldly maxims, sensual carnal improvements.

3. Ill company creates confidence in sin.

II. HAPPINESS IS THE FRUIT OF WISDOM, AND MISERY OF FOLLY. Both reason and revelation and experience tell us that sin is fruitless and dishonourable. Righteousness fills the mind with peace and joy; sin tortures it with contradictions and unreasonable passions, with the guilt and the terrors of the Lord.


1. We must be very cautious what company we keep.

2. We must endeavour to make the best use of it.

3. We must be fully persuaded that the due government of ourselves in this point is a matter of the highest moment.

(J. Lucas.)


1. It means, to converse with the writings of the wise.

2. To choose wise persons for our companions and to lose no opportunity of receiving their advice and instruction. Providence may appoint a good man's station amongst sinners, either for a trial of his integrity, or to give him opportunity to use his best endeavours to reclaim them. Civil communities, so absolutely necessary for mankind, are composed of good and bad in such a variety of degrees that there are few good without some bad qualities, and few bad without some good ones. Men are disposed to seek society and to form acquaintances, larger or lesser, for their worldly concerns and for their mutual satisfaction and entertainment. This general inclination, or instinct, operates freely and variously, and for the most part it induces men to seek those who are of a like character and disposition with themselves.

II. THE INFLUENCE AND EFFICACY WHICH SUCH CONDUCT HATH TOWARDS THE ATTAINMENT OF WISDOM. Conversation hath a considerable share in forming the tempers and manners of men. Their behaviour and their moral and religious dispositions depend much on the company they keep. The influence which the behaviour and discourse of others hath upon us may be ascribed to two causes.

1. A desire of being agreeable to those with whom we are familiar.

2. To the force of example. And the nearer the example is the more force it acquires.

(John Jortin, D. D.)


1. Wisdom is that rectitude of mind which enables a man to judge what are the best ends, and what are the best means to obtain those ends. They are wise in the highest sense who possess a knowledge of God, and of spiritual truth.

2. Wisdom includes a reverent obedience to the Divine commands, and an earnest concern for personal salvation.

II. THE METHOD OF THE ASSOCIATION ADVISED. That we walk with wise men; hold mental intercourse and fellowship with them. Two modes by which this association may be formed.

1. By studying their writings.

2. By cultivating their personal friendship.

III. THE VALUE OF THE PROMISE SECURED. "Shall be wise." He shall rise, by association, to the attainment of the same character as that with which he has been connected. If we be rendered wise, we have —

1. The possession of dignity.

2. The capacity of usefulness.

3. The certainty of happiness.

(James Parsons.)

This subject is illustrated by the Persian moralist Saadi: "A friend of mine put into my hands a piece of scented clay; I took it, and said to it, 'Art thou musk or ambergris, for I am charmed with thy perfume?' It answered, 'I was a despicable piece of clay, but I was some time in the company of the rose; the sweet quality of my companion was communicated to me, otherwise I should only be a bit of clay, as I appear to be.'"

By "wisdom" is meant "religion."

I. HE THAT WALKS WITH RELIGIOUS MEN WILL BECOME RELIGIOUS. The term "walk" signifies a continued course of conduct, or a manner of living, in which men persevere till it becomes habitual. The place to which every religious person is travelling is heaven. All who would walk with them must make heaven the object of their pursuit. The only way to heaven is Jesus Christ. All who walk with religious persons must agree in assenting to this truth.

1. The fact that a person chooses to associate with religious characters, in religious pursuits, proves that he is already the subject of serious impressions.

2. He who walks with religious persons, will see and hear many things which powerfully tend to increase and perpetuate those serious impressions.

3. One who walks with religious men must be the subject of serious impressions for many years successively. He who continues to walk with religious men to the end of his life will become religious.

II. A COMPANION OF SINNERS SHALL BE DESTROYED. That is, one who chooses for his associates persons who are regardless of religion.

1. Such an one is the subject of no religious impressions; he has few, if any, serious thoughts.

2. Such an one takes the most effectual way to prevent any serious impressions ever being made on his mind.

3. Such an one takes the most effectual way to banish those serious thoughts that do come.

4. Such an one gets confirmed in habits and feelings opposed to his ever becoming religious.

(E. Payson, D.D.)

Every one exerts an influence on some others, and in turn is acted on by them. It is vain to endeavour to escape, or destroy, this mutual influence. There is a strong tendency in human character to the assimilating itself to that of those with whom it is in contact. The text represents the acquisition of wisdom as a direct consequence of the associating, or walking with, the wise. The association must be both intimate and voluntary. There is in all of us the desire of being esteemed or approved. This desire of approval is nearly allied, if not identical with, that dislike of being singular which has so mighty an operation on all classes of mind. It is almost a necessary consequence on this, that we shall gradually, though perhaps imperceptibly, assimilate ourselves to the tastes and tendencies of our companions. Illustrate a man, not of vicious habits himself, thrown continually into association with the dissolute. Unless he has great moral courage, he will inevitably assimilate to the vicious. His virtuous principles get secretly undermined. We cannot argue, with equal probability, that if the case were that of a vicious man associated with virtuous the result would be a conformity of character. There is a tendency in our nature to the imitation of what is wrong, but not — at least not in the same degree — to the imitation of what is right. There is, however, a strong probability that, through association with virtuous men, the vicious will in a degree be shamed out of his viciousness. If you add the force of example to the desire of approval, the probability will be heightened. Known facts of experience bear out our text. Then walk with the wise that are dead — be specially careful what authors, what books you make your companions. And walk with the wise of the living, with the virtuous, with the righteous. Nay, walk with God.

(H. Melvill, B.D.)

Sin is catching, is infectious, is epidemic. Not appreciating the truth of my text, many a young man has been destroyed.

1. Shun the sceptic.

2. Shun the companionship of idlers.

3. Shun the perpetual pleasure-seeker. Rather than enter the companionship of such, accept the invitation to a better feast. The promises of God are the fruits. The harps of heaven are the music. Clusters from the vineyards of God have been pressed into the tankards. Her name is religion. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

I. THE GRAND FELLOWSHIP IN LIFE'S PATH. Though fools crowd the path of life, there are many "wise men" here and there. Who are the wise men?

1. The men who aim at the highest end of existence. What is the highest end? Not wealth, pleasure, fame, etc. The highest end of man, the only worthy end, is eternal perfection of character, spiritual assimilation to God's perfection. Who are the wise men?

2. The men who employ the best means to reach that end. Who are the wise men?

3. The men who devote the best time in the employment of those means.


1. There is a transforming power in the ideas of the truly wise. The ideas of "wise men" are like the rays of the sun — warm, bright, touching all into life. In the Bible you have these ideas in their mightiest form.

2. There is a transforming power in the sympathies of the truly wise. Sympathy is a mighty power. Even a touch of it in the dropping tear, the faltering voice, the quivering lip, will often move a soul to its centre. The sympathies of the wise man are deep, spiritual, genuine, Christlike. They are morally electric.

3. There is a transforming power in the example of the truly wise. All moral character is formed on the principle of imitation. But we imitate only what we love and admire; and the character of the wise man has in it what alone can command the highest love and admiration of the soul. It has moral beauty — the beauty of the Lord.From this subject we learn —

1. That the choice of companions is the most important step in life.

2. That godly literature has an inestimable value.

3. That the Church institution is a most beneficent appointment.


The subject of companionship and its consequences is one of deep interest and constant application to all stages of life; but it concerns especially the young. There are few matters about which the young should be more careful, and there are few about which many of the young are more careless. Companionship is a human necessity. Man seeks for it by an instinct of his nature, as certainly and irrepressibly as whales go in schools, fish in shoals, cattle in herds, birds in flocks, and bees in hives. Companionship, in itself, is not an evil thing, but a good. But it may be sadly perverted, and thus become bad, and the source and spring of untold badness. Men can turn good to evil. The very best of God's things may be perverted. And men, young and old, have perverted companionship. We are made or marred according to our choice of companions. In Solomon's thought was only the companionship of living men. There is now also a companionship in books, and thus mind with mind. The character of book companionship resembles closely that of living men. In forming human companionships some seem scarcely to exercise any choice at all. They allow themselves to drift. As a rule such persons gravitate towards the bad. Many choose those who, at first meeting, make an agreeable impression on them. The only real basis of true love is the knowledge of personal qualities which command love. You should never make a companion of one you do not know. The text speaks of possible companionships under two classes — the wise and the foolish. By the "wise" is not meant the "learned "; nor the cute, the clever, the capable man of business. By the "wise" is meant the good, the man who places the spiritual above the material, God over and above self; the man who would rather be right than what is called successful. By "fools" is not meant the intellectually weak and silly; nor the merely thoughtless, the giddy, the frivolous. By "fools" is meant all who are morally and spiritually without God, and thus, openly or secretly, wicked. We are left free to choose our companions from among the wise and the fools But we are not without guidance. We have reason, and conscience, and the Word and Spirit of God. The results we reap from our companionships will correspond with the choice we make. The reaping mentioned here is the result of the principle of assimilation. The associate of the wise will be assimilated to them. The very choice of the spiritually right, and good is an evidence of wisdom at the start. In such fellowship a right and God-pleasing character is built up. The companion of the frivolous and the wicked soon learn their ways, and become conformed to their character. Surely moral contamination is more to be dreaded than physical, You must have a companion. Receive, I beseech you, the best of all — our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(Alexander Davidson.)

I. WHAT MAY BE MEANT BY WISE MEN AND FOOLS. Not learned men and illiterate men. A wise man is one who proposes to himself the most valuable ends, and pursues them by the best means. A fool is one who either has no worthy ends in view, or does not pursue them by proper means. The prudent is the wise man. The inconsiderate is the fool. The wise man is the true believer and holy soul; and the fool is the impenitent sinner, who rejects Christ and His salvation.


1. It is to love and choose their company.

2. To seek and frequent their company.

3. To make them our intimate friends, and to fall in with them.


1. It is a great part of wisdom to choose such.

2. It is a means of growing wiser.

3. He who really is the companion of the wise will certainly himself be wise.As to walking with fools —

1. The companions of fools walk in the way which leads to destruction.

2. They are continually in the utmost danger of destruction.

3. If they continue they shall certainly be destroyed, with them, for ever and ever.

(John Guyse, D. D.)

Society is in itself so necessary to human life. Adam, in the state of innocence, could not be happy, though in paradise, without a companion. The chief scope of the text may be summed up in this observation: that every man's present and future welfare doth very much depend upon the right choice and improvement of those friends or companions with whom he doth most familiarly converse. For the clearing of this observation, it may be made very evident from divers Scriptures. Upon this account it is that we have such frequent cautions and threats against conversing with bad company. This was the meaning of all those severe prohibitions in the ceremonial law against touching any unclean thing. It is observable, that he who touched a dead beast was unclean but till the evening (Leviticus 11:24), but he who touched a dead man was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11), signifying a bad man to be the most dangerous of all other creatures. The apostle styles wicked men to be such as are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) even whilst they live (1 Timothy 5:6.) There are four things wherein most men place their welfare, some or all of which every rational man doth propose to himself in the choice of his friends. These are reputation, safety, comfort, profit.

1. For reputation or honour. Wicked men are fools in the phrase of the text; and what credit can a wise man expect by conversing with fools? On the other side, good men are the excellent of the earth. Such alone are truly noble and magnanimous. And therefore whoever would propose to himself honour and reputation in his society must make choice only of such companions.

2. For safety. The text tells us that a companion of fools shall be destroyed. If any one shall persuade himself that he can enjoy their company, and yet escape their contagion, he may as well think to suspend the natural operation of fire; whereas on the other side, every one fares the better for the company of those that are good. They are the lights of the world, the salt of the earth, the pillars of a nation, those that stand in the gap to prevent an inundation of judgment. Potiphar's house was blessed for Joseph's sake (Genesis 39:5), and all the passengers in the ship were saved from drowning for St. Paul's sake (Acts 27:24).

3. For comfort. This is one of the principal ends of friendship, to ease and refresh a man amidst the anxieties of life; and there is nothing of greater efficacy to this purpose. But now this cannot be expected from any wicked person; whereas, on the other side, those that are wise in the phrase of the text are the most delightful company that are.

4. And lastly, for profit. There is nothing to be expected from such friends but the increase of our sins and of our punishments; whereas in conversing with those that are good there are these advantages —(1) Their example will by degrees insinuate into the mind, and obtain the force of precepts, exciting us to a holy emulation.(2) Their very presence will affect us with some kind of awe against evil.(3) Their conference, wholesome and savoury, administering grace to the hearers.(4) Their counsel, faithful, and wise, and hearty.(5) Their prayers powerful, ready. And it is not easily imaginable what an advantage that is, to have a praying friend or companion.There are three lessons I would briefly insist upon in the application of it.

1. That we would take notice of the great benefit to be obtained by the right improvement of society and mutual converse with one another.

2. That we of this place would be careful, both for ourselves and those committed to our charge, in the right choice of our friends and Company.

3. That we would labour for those proper qualifications and abilities which may render us acceptable and useful in our conversing with others. There are four conditions, amongst many others, that are more especially suitable to this purpose —(1) A readiness to communicate, according to the gifts we have received, so ministering the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.(2) Humility. That is a sociable grace, lovely in itself, and acceptable to all.(3) Prudence, in distinguishing of men's tempers, prejudices, infirmities; in discerning of the right seasons and advantages to do good amongst them.(4) Ingenuity and candour of disposition, in owning of our own weaknesses or faults, another's gifts or pre-eminences.

(John. Wilkins.)

"A man is known by the company that he keeps." The proverb is illustrated by the experience of all ages.


1. In society and trade. Conversation is permitted in buying, selling, and following out ordinary commercial transactions.

2. We may have intercourse with others for their good. Christ Jesus conversed with sinners to gain them.

II. AVOID UNNECESSARY FAMILIARITY. Avoid the sins of the ungodly. If impelled by position, connection, or business to associate, beware of compliance in sin. The nearest tie cannot sanction participation in sin. Many reasons dissuade from undue familiarity. You cannot be familiar and escape contagion. The conversation of the wicked has more power to corrupt than the conversation of the good to ameliorate. These observations are peculiarly addressed to the young whose habits are, forming, whose character is moulding.


1. Beware of the idle. Idleness exposes to all forms of temptation.

2. Beware of the selfish and covetous. There is grave danger that you be affected with this spirit, and your sole determination be by all means to get wealth. Covetousness is a deceitful sin. It leads to innumerable evils.

3. Beware of the loose and erroneous. Those who are neglecting religion. The Sabbath-breaker. Those naturally disposed to error.

4. Beware of those who frequent suspicious places. Choose for companions persons of moral worth, those who fear the Lord.

(Samuel Spence.)

It is as we contemplate the Divine perfections that our souls are lifted toward the same perfection. The man who moves in cultivated society acquires refined tastes — a high ideal. The eye is educated by the most perfect specimens of art; the ear is educated by the most graceful forms of speech; the manners are formed upon the most elegant models of deportment. Walking in the light, he becomes a child of the light. So with the believer. The coteries of human society may be closed to him. From its select circles he may be hopelessly excluded. But the highest culture of all is open to him in the society of God. He may walk in the supernal light, and form his character upon a Divine model. Communion in the spiritual sphere, as well as in the social, implies assimilation. We become like those we walk with.

(J. Halsey.)

Christian Weekly.
When General Nicholson lay wounded on his death-bed before Delhi, he dictated this last message to his equally noble and gallant friend, Sir Herbert Edwardes: "Tell him I should have been a better man if I had continued to live with him, and our heavy public duties had not prevented my seeing more of him privately. I was always the better for a residence with him and his wife, however short. Give my love to them both!"

(Christian Weekly.)

If we desire to be preserved from sin, let us avoid engaging company; many perseus would resist the force of natural inclination, but when that is excited by the example of others, they are easily vanquished. A pure stream passing through a sink will run thick and muddy. And the "evil communication" will leave some of its corrupting influence to pollute the purest morals. On the contrary, society with the saints is a happy advantage to make us like them. As waters that pass through medicinal minerals do not come out the same waters, but, being impregnated with their properties, they derive a healing tincture from them, so it is impossible to be much with the Lord's people without imbibing something of their motives and principles, and a desire to be influenced by their spirit. No society can be to us a matter of indifference, but must operate for good or ill. The present world is a continual temptation. We are in a state of warfare; though not always in fight, yet always in the field, exposed to our spiritual enemies that war against our souls: and our vigilance and care should be accordingly.

(G. H. Salter.)

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