Proverbs 28:1

I. WICKEDNESS IS FEARFUL, GOODNESS IS COURAGEOUS. (ver. 1.) A good conscience is better than a thousand witnesses; an evil conscience unmans (Job 15:21). What passes by the name of courage is often the effect of fear of men; and that which is discountenanced as want of spirit may proceed from the profoundest reverence for God. We shall never find anything in the world more to be feared than the warring presence within our own breast. True courage is the knowledge that we are for the time at one with God. The light of his countenance is life, dispersing the darkest cloud, and calming the most turbulent tempest. An evil conscience is "the worm that dies not."

II. POLITICS AND MORALS. (Ver. 2.) Rebellion arising from the collision of party and personal interests must be very injurious to the well being of a small state. Rebellion can only be justified when there is not only the greatest wrong existing, but also the clearest possible prospect of success. If peoples in time of distress, instead of cursing and rising against their rulers, would patiently search into the causes of their grievances, a shorter way would often be found to redress. A certain unity of feeling is essential to the well being of a state. "When any of the four pillars of government are mainly shaken or weakened (which are religion, justice, counsel, and treasure), men had need to pray for fair weather" (Bacon).

III. THE ODIUM OF PETTY TYRANNY. (Ver. 3.) There is nothing more detestable than the oppressive rule of an upstart. A base mind becomes more corrupt from hasty elevation, a narrow heart more cruel, as in the case of Robespierre and other historical examples. As with learning, so with power; the smatterers are the most ostentatious of their knowledge; those "dressed in a little brief authority" love to

"Play such fantastic tricks before high heaven, As make the angels weep." The Divine rule is strong in gentleness.

IV. THE SECRET OF MORAL SYMPATHY AND ANTIPATHY. (Ver. 4.) Those that secretly love sin have pleasure in them that do it. "The world loveth its own." It is fearful to sin; more fearful to delight in it; yet more to defend it (Bishop Hall). The pure heart has no "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." We reveal or betray ourselves by our sympathies. The homely proverb says, "Like lips, like lettuce." And the important lesson arises here - that we should dwell on the best and brightest examples, for the sake of their effect on our character; the eye becomes sunny as it gazes at the sun.

V. THE EFFECT OF VICE ON THE INTELLIGENCE. (Ver. 5.) It is a most important principle that insight into intellectual relations of truth is affected by the mood of the heart. The clearest knowledge of the letter is here of no avail. "If any man shall do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine." The pure conscience conditions the bright intelligence. The understanding is darkened "because of the blindness of men's heart;" and these call darkness light, and light darkness. Many things dark to reason are simplified to knowledge. The Divine mysteries are mysteries of love, and through love only may be known. - J.







The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
In all ages courage has been regarded as a mark of honour and magnanimity, and cowardice has been considered a proof of pusillanimity and baseness. There is something base in cowardice. There is something noble in courage. A name descriptive of a virtue ought never to be applied to what is equivocal or culpable. Yet such is the native dignity of courage, such the value it ever commands, that in its most suspicious forms it possesses a charm which is almost irresistible. On the other hand, it is not for Christian men to judge of timidity as the world judges. There is much that the world accounts cowardly which we regard as noble and magnanimous. The real coward is the slave of his fear, and mankind are right in branding cowardice as vile and contemptible. The brave man is tranquil, firm, concentrated. He is the real master of what belongs to him, because he is master of himself. The text charges cowardice upon sin, and claims for holiness the honours of courage. There is nothing more wonderful in man than the moral faculty which we call conscience. But it may be injured and weakened. There is even the possibility that it may be destroyed. Among the instruments of torture with which conscience afflicts the soul of the sinner is fear. Sin is immediately followed by fear — by the fear of detection, of exposure, of punishment. Under a sense of sin the bravest man becomes a coward. Sin is more especially followed by a fear at the Divine displeasure. Sin is a thing of darkness. It shuns the light. When a man has sinned, his chief care is, that his sin should not be known to others. This becomes a supreme fear. Even when the sinner has no reason to fear man at all, he is not free from feelings of terror. Conscience allows them no peace. They are restless, unsettled, miserable. Changing the picture, the text presents the righteous as "bold as a lion." The courage of the lion, though by no means a certain thing, has passed into a proverb, and the highest degree of intrepidity is implied by this comparison. We must not forget to make the distinction between physical and moral timidity. There is a timidity which is strictly a bodily infirmity. Where there is uprightness of conduct there is no place for fear. He who has done nothing to be ashamed of cannot dread detection and exposure. He who acts from principle, who does what he does in the fear of God, will not be afraid of the consequences of his actions, because he is well assured that all those consequences are in the hands of the great Disposer. In the discharge of duty "the righteous are bold as a lion." Theirs is not presumption, for they are trusting on Him who is infinite. It is not desperation, for they can rely on innumerable promises. They present a bold front to the enemy; they feel their superiority. But before Him with whom they have to do, their Father in heaven, there is nought of self-confidence. Trusting in God, they cannot fail. They may bid farewell to doubt and insecurity. Their foundation is a rock; their hope is sure and steadfast.

(J. G. Dowling, M.A.)

The two ingredients that go into the composition of a good soldier are courage and good conduct. Here cowardice and courage are resolved into their first principles. All mankind are distinguished, by their proper characters, into two sorts — wicked and righteous. The wicked are of such base and timorous spirits that they are ready to run away from the least shadow of danger; being haunted with an ill-boding mind, they flee before the spectres of their own fancies. Every wicked man is not actually a coward, for that contradicts experience. There is a sort of valour which naturally springs out of the very temper of men's bodies, which is nothing else but a certain impetus, or brisk fermentation of the blood and spirits, and this is common to bad men as with good. By the term "righteous" the Scripture is wont to express all good men, because all instances of goodness are acts of righteousness, either to God, or to ourselves, or to our neighbours. Of this sort of men the proper character is "bold as a lion." At least their righteousness tends to make them so. Illustrate this proposition: that wickedness naturally tends to dishearten and cowardize men, but righteousness and goodness to encourage and embolden them. The things which naturally contribute to make men courageous.

1. That they be free, and within their own command.

2. That they be well hardened to endure difficulties and inconveniences.

3. That they be well satisfied in the nature of their actions and undertakings.

4. That they have a hopeful prospect of being well seconded.

5. That they have a probable security of good success.

6. That they be borne up with the expectation of a glorious reward.All these causes of courage are to be found in righteousness, and their direct contraries in a sinful and wicked course of life.

(John Scott.)

This is a fact that may be accounted for on moral grounds. Conscience is the tormentor of the bad man.

1. Then the finest faculties of men may become terrible scourges.

2. Then no dependence is to be placed on the wicked in the time of danger.

3. Then the wicked are always making fools of themselves.

4. Then the wicked cannot bear the judgment of man; how can they endure the vengeance of God?

5. Then man may come to be regarded as the enemy of man.

(J. Parker, D.D.)

Scarcely is there anything more consistent and regular in the course of natural productions than that fear and remorse are the offspring of guilt, and religious courage and undauntedness the attendants of integrity. The most striking instance may be found in the behaviour of our primitive parents.

I. CONSIDER THIS CASE WITH RESPECT TO THE WICKED.

1. One reason why they are so liable to be alarmed and put into disorder is shame. Those who do evil wish to conceal their doings. Darkness is not only the principle from which evil deeds flow, but the proper region and retirement where they strive for ever to conceal them.

2. Another cause is fear. That fear gives wings to the transgressor is observed even to a proverb. They who sin can have no real peace or satisfaction of mind. Fear naturally arises from the apprehension of present or future ill. Some indeed there are who have so effectually dosed and qualified their consciences as to pass over a crime with as much indifference as they before committed it. But there is little tranquillity within, though outwardly they seem so airy and serene.

II. HOW THE RIGHTEOUS MAN ACQUITS HIMSELF. The upright man wants no refuge: as he is free from guile and deceit, so he is frank and open in his whole conversation. His integrity is dearer to him than the most pompous acquisitions, and the security of his soul than the gain of the universe. Through the perverse opposition of a censorious and malignant world, the most circumspect cannot always escape despiteful usage. But, confident in God, the good man maintains his ground, stands upon his defence, and is no more to be stormed by assault than perverted by interest. Innocence is the best armour he can put on. Since the difference appears so considerable and important, it cannot be a matter of doubt to any one that calls himself rational to which side his choice ought to be determined.

(James Roe, M.A.)

1. What continual frights those are subject to that go on in wicked ways! Guilt in the conscience makes men a terror to themselves, so that they are ready to flee when no man pursueth; like one that absconds for debt, who thinks every one he meets a bailiff. Though they pretend to be easy, there are secret fears which haunt them wherever they go, so that they fear where no present or imminent danger is. Those that have made God their enemy, and know it, cannot but see the whole creation at war with them, and therefore can have no true enjoyment of themselves, no confidence, no courage, but a fearful looking for of judgment. Sin makes men cowards.

2. What a holy security and serenity of mind those enjoy who keep conscience void of offence, and so keep themselves in the love of God. In the greatest dangers the righteous have a God of almighty power to trust to. Whatever difficulties they meet with in the way of their duty, they are not daunted by them.

( Matthew Henry.)

The righteous are those who do right. Saxon of righteous is "right wise." Before man had fallen the righteous were those who were conformed, in all respects, to the known will of God. Now, as fallen creatures, none can claim to be righteous, according to the strict requirements of the law. Some, however, may be spoken of, in a comparative sense, as righteous. The eleventh article says, "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith." A certain quality is ascribed to such persons: they are "bold as a lion." This is a proverbial expression from ancient times.

I. BOLDNESS IS INDISPENSABLE AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE CHRISTIAN COURSE. Does it require no boldness to obey the gospel call? Let those answer who have gone through with the painful struggle which it costs before the mind can be brought to a decided stand.

II. BOLDNESS IS REQUIRED IN THE DISCHARGE OF THE DUTIES WHICH MUST BE MET DAY BY DAY. What bright examples of courage have been placed before us in the lives of the saints of God — Moses, Caleb and Joshua, David, Elijah, etc.; and in the history of the martyrs and confessors of the Church — e.g., , Ridley, and Latimer. Those brave souls are now acting the same noble part who, in these days of blasphemy and rebuke, are not afraid to show favour to God's children who may be under a cloud of reproach and trodden underfoot by the mighty. In more ordinary matters, the same boldness is indispensable.

III. THE BOLDNESS OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS MANIFESTED AT THE APPROACH OF DEATH. There is something in human nature which instinctively shrinks back at the thought of dissolution. But when the righteous man actually draws near the border-line, the fear of death is gone. Then let us all cultivate the decision, the boldness, and the endurance, which our profession demands.

(John N. Norton.)

Pursuit and flight are in nature correlatives, and constitute an inseparable pair. A swift foot does not avail the man who is fleeing from himself. When they escape from man, God is the pursuer of the guilty. A reflector fixed in the human constitution points ever to its author, as the magnet points to its pole, whatever the windings of life may be. In effect, God is present in every human breast. Conscience within a man is one extremity of an electric wire whose other extremity is fastened to the judgment-seat. This apparatus brings the Judge and the criminal terribly near to each other. Conscience is in many respects the most wonderful element in the constitution of man. It is the point of closest contact and most intimate communion between us and the Father of our spirits. Thereby chiefly God apprehends us, thereby chiefly we apprehend God. Who shall settle the controversy between an unclean conscience and a just God? The question points, as John did, to the Lamb of God who taketh sin away. There is one Mediator between God and man. Terrors are sent as messages of mercy to arouse loiterers, and compel them to flee. It is better to be roughly awakened to safety than to perish asleep.

(W. Arnot, D.D.)

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