PROVERBS 17, 21-28 REV. RALPH WARDLAW, D.D.

Prov. xvii. 21-28.
"He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment. Wisdom is before him that hath understanding: but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth. A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him. Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity. He that hath knowledge sp;ireth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding."

" He that begetteth a fool," - A child of weak capacity ? o. Such a child, though a trial in one sense, may be a source of joy in another - true, sweet, lasting joy : for it is almost impossible to say how feeble the powers of intellect may be, and yet a parent's heart be gladdened by witnessing that child a subject of divine grace ; - the mind, as far as its powers go, apprehending, though but imperfectly and glimmeringly, the elements of gospel truth, under the secret teaching of Him who "hides these things from the wise and prudent, and reveals them unto babes," - and the heart experiencing, though in much simplicity, the influence by which the affections are drawn to God, and the conscience rendered sensitive to his authority. 11 A fool" means a graceless child, - froward, unprincipled, a "despiser of that which is good," without the "fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom." Such a child brings to a godly parent's heart "grief," "sorrow,"

PROVERBS XVII. 21-28. 159 "bitterness.'' These are the terms here employed, (verses

21, 25) and along with these we have the strong negative form of expression: - "The father of a fool hath no joy." The meaning is more than that he has no joy in that son. The character and condnct of that son serve to infuse "bitterness" into everything else. There may be many things in his domestic lot fitted to inspire cheerfulness and delight: - hut at the happy moments, when his heart, yielding to all the fond impulses of conjugal and parental tenderness, is swelling with the emotions of gladness, the thought of his perverse, rebellious, profligate boy comes over him, sends through that heart the pang of agony, "turns his harp to mourning, and his organ to the voice of them that weep." - . othing but blinding partiality can prevent this in the case of a pious parent. And such partiality, alas ! is too common, and very mischievous and very cruel to the youth who is its object. There is no cruelty worse .than this mistaken blindness ; this shutting of the eyes to a child's sinful propensities ; this incredulity of evil ; this easy, indulgent disposition, that cannot bring itself to apply a check, and still goes on hoping the best, - smiling at trespasses, in its own, as venial faults, which, in other children, it would condemn with gravity as serious offences j and looking, or professing to look, to grace, while neglecting the ordained means by which grace operates. David "never had displeased Adonijah in any tiring, by saying to him, Why hast thou done so 1 " - and the upshot of it was, in the old age of his indulgent father, ambitious rebellion, and the risk of civil war : - and there is every reason to fear that, to a certain degree at least, he owed to the same parental partiality and indulgence, the still more atrocious and unnatural conspiracy of Absalom, whose premature death drew from his eyes the bitterest tears they ever shed, except those for his own sins. - For a man who has the affections of nature, and who believes God's word, to see a son, "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh," - the object of his yearning love, - the subject of his early care, of his tears, his prayers, his watchings, his anxieties, his fears, his hopes, - -walking in

160 LECTURE XL VIII. the way of dinners, refusing instruction and admonition, taking his side with God's enemies, living in ungodliness and vice, going on, in all appearance, to perdition, unawed by correction, whether from the parental or from the divine hand, and untouched and unsubdued by entreaty : - ! if, there be a drop in the cup of life of pure undiluted "bitterness," - this is that drop. And special emphasis is here laid on the sorrow and heart-break of a pious mother - "bitterness to her that bare him;" bare him, with the throes of a mother's anguish; but those were throes which introduced the joy of a mother's love, and were light when compared with the agony of a mother's wounded spirit for her child straying from God. - On the contrary, if there is a draught of pure delight in this valley of tears, it is the joy of a godly parent in a godly child ! Do you wish, then, parents, - how strange and needless a question ! - do you wish to have joy in your children, and not " sorrow," and "grief," and " bitterness 1 " - Mind your duty. eglect not means ; and when you use them, use them with an afTection that is regulated by judgment, and a judgment whose firmness is softened by afTection. Mind instruction, example, correction, and prayer. Their corrupt nature our children derive from us. If we neglect instruction, or mislead them by our example, or fail to correct, and to draw down by prayer the blessing of a covenant God upon them,- we become ourselves the causes of our own sorrow, as well as of their danger and ruin. - And children : - ! knew you but the "bitterness" you infuse into the parental cup, - could you but put your lips to it and taste it, - it would - had you a drop remaining in your heart's-blood of a child's sensibility, - it would send a pang through your spirit ; it would arrest you in your wild and godless career. If ever you have a serious reflection, and your parents should then be no more, how bitter to yourselves will be the cup of your remembrance ! For your parents' sakes, and for your own "remember your Creator in the days of your youth:" " forsake the foolish, and live."

Verse '22. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:

PROVERBS XVII. 21-28. 161 but a broken spirit drieth the bones."""' - The first clause stands in the original - "A merry heart doeth good - a medicine;" and we may either supply like or is; and real " doeth good like a medicine," or, " doeth good - is a medicine." In the margin we have "to a medicine;" by whicii is meant, what undoubtedly is included in the general sentiment, that a cheerful, contented spirit, contributes to promote the beneficial influence of a medicine in the recovery of health. t A spirit that is cast down and "broken," - not so much, in this connexion, by afflictive visitations, (though in that case too, there is truth in the representation) as by impatience, thanklessness, disappointment, discontent, envy - "drieth the bones." Under the influence of this gnawing, carking, dissatisfied spirit, - the spirit of peevish dulness, that never smiles on the lips or sparkles in the eyes, but is oppressed with a weightier heaviness by the very cheerfulness of others, as if it hated everything so unlike itself, - the body pines and wastes. Instead of the bones, in the terms of the prophet, " flourishing like an herb," they wither for lack of moisture; the healthy secretions fail; the strength decays; all is fretful debility and indolence. - I would not confine the expression, however, to this description alone of a dull and cheerless spirit; it is true, as has been hinted, of the effect of the burden of affliction, - and it is specially true also of the load of conscious guilt and the heavy, soul-depressing apprehension of coming wrath. This is indeed a cankerworm, that secretly consumes the very vitals, and, if not effectually relieved, may lay the body, like a skeleton ere it dies, in the grave. In sickness, cheerfulness " is a medicine." In some disorders especially, an easy and happy mind is the very best of healing antidotes, and assists in the efficiency of every other.

* Compare chap. xv. 13 and 15. t Stuart renders, "will do the body good.' 1 ' 1 The word nm, which only occurs here, is translated body in the Chaldee and Syriac. "This makes," says Stuart, u a more congruous sense, for body tlien corresponds to ens, bone in the other clause, which last is only a tropical appellation of the word corpus." II. L

162 LECTURE XLVIir. And what is the nature of the cheerfulness or " merry heart," which Solomon here commends 1 We are sure it is not the " laughter of the fool ; " for of it he says " it is mad" - and short-lived too, " like the crackling of thorns under a pot," only leaving, when the blaze is over, a gloomier sadness. "What he here and elsewhere commends is the cheerfulness of a heart that has found peace with God, and the joy of God's salvation. There may, it is true, be a natural buoyancy and lightness of spirit, to which, in a limited acceptation, the words before us may truly enough be applied. But above all, and in the fulness of their meaning, are they true of the heart in which there has settled the " peace that passeth all understanding" - the happy sense of God's love, the cheering hope of God's glory. Here is sunshine, - here is gladness. A commentator,* whom I occasionally quote for the pithy comprehensiveness of his remarks, observes - " It is a great mercy that God gives us leave to be cheerful, and cause to be cheerful; and especially if, by his grace, he gives us hearts to be cheerful." Yes " Ten thousand thousand precious gifts Our daily thanks employ; or is the least - a cheerful heart, That tastes those gifts with joy." let us be thankful above all for those springs of spiritual

and never-failing joy which God, in the fulness of his mercy, has opened for us, when, so far as our deserts were concerned, every fountain of sweetness might have been " sealed," or converted into a fountain of bitterness. Let us drink of the "wells of salvation," and "go on our way rejoicing!" Verse 23. "A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment." We have had this subject so recently before us, that we shall not again dwell upon it.t The only phrase here that suggests a remark in addition to those formerly made is - " taking the gift out of the bosom." * Henry. -j- See verse 8.

PROVERBS XVII. 21-28. 1CS The phrase implies concealment. He who gives from the bosom, and he who receives from the bosom, are both desirous to have the action hidden. The "gift" - the bribe, must both be given and received covertly. Let the briber and the bribed, alike bethink them of the words - "Thou, God, seest me!" The secret bribe may to men remain a secret - a secret through life - a secret till the judgment-day. But then - God will " bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts." He abhors the deed. He will visit it with vengeance. And let all my hearers bear in mind - there is a judgment which can by no possible means be perverted. There is no bribing the Judge of all. He is infinitely beyond the reach of " gifts." All receive from Him. He can receive from none. The universe, with all that it contains, is his own. "Where is the creature who possesses any thing, that is not God's in an infinitely higher sense than it is his ? And in that dreadful day that shall sum up and close the history of our fallen

world, when all shall be summoned before the bar of the Eternal ; when not one shall be able either to evade or to resist the summons; when the sentences of all that have ever lived shall come forth from an authority whence there is no appeal, and shall take sure effect the instant they are pronounced, and settle for ever the doom of each unbelieving and unpardoned culprit there - then, - then "what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" - how shall he buy off his doomed and trembling spirit? - Were the universe his, he would offer it all. But where is the influence that can shake eternal justice? What "bosom" contains the bribe that can command even a commutation of the sentence? - There is One, who has paid the ransom of a fallen world. God has accepted the ransom. It is not "a gift that perverteth the ways of judgment." It is a " propitiation, to declare God's righteousness in the remission of sins." This ransom may avail for you in all its blessed fruits of pardoning mercy, sanctifying grace, and life everlasting, in a way that " brings out God's righteousness as the light, and his judgment as the noonday."

164 LECTURE XL VIII. Verse 24. "Wisdom is before him that hath understanding : but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." One translator renders the words - " In the countenance of a wise man wisdom appeareth ; but the fool's eyes roll to and fro : " - the rolling of the eyes being understood as the indication of an unsettled and vacant mind. But there is more, surely, in the sentence than mere physiognomy, - or than the mere expression of the mind in the countenance. Another understands the contrast as meaning that wisdom is near to the one and far from the other : - " wisdom is before" - that is, ever near to - "the man of understanding;" "but the fool's eyes are in the ends of the earth" - seeking it; it is far from him.

The meaning seems rather to be simply this : - The maxims and principles and directions of true wisdom are before the man of understanding ; that is, they are kept ever in his view. They are familiar to him, and constantly applied for his guidance in the right way, - ready for immediate use, in all circumstances. In whatever condition, and whatever emergency, " wisdom is before him : " - the word of God is before him, - the fear of God is before him ; the one the rule of wisdom, the other the principle of wisdom; both, before his memory, his conscience, and his heart. Wisdom leads, and he follows. " But the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." - He has no fixed and steady principle or rule ; nothing on which he fixes his eye for his guidance. His thoughts are incessantly wandering after matters he has nothing to do with, anything and everything but that which he should at the time be minding; - roving after every vanity, and keeping steadily to no pursuit. It is specially true of "things pertaining to salvation." Wisdom, in this matter above all others, is " before him that hath understanding." He looks to one point. He sees one thing to be needful. He sees the wisdom of God providing for it. There he fixes. And this is wisdom. It is ever before hirn. One end - one means. Whereas " the fool's eyes are in the ends of the earth." He lias examined nothing. He roves at random, with no de-

PHO VERBS XVII. 21-28. 165 terminate ideas about the most interesting, by infinite degrees, of all concerns. Ask him how he hopes to be saved; you immediately discover his thoughtless unsettledness. He is in " the ends of the earth." His answer is to seek. It is here; it is there; it is nowhere. He hesitates; he supposes; he guesses; he is at a stand; he cannot tell. This is very mournful ; but it is very common. My friends, wisdom is before you - in this Book of God. But it is in vain that it is here, if you set it not by faith before the eye

of your mind and the contemplation of your heart, that you may follow it. "Wisdom may be fixed in the book ; while your eyes are roving away from it in every possible direction. be persuaded to learn it here, to set it before you, and to follow it for your good. There is another character that may here be meant - by the fool whose eyes are in "the ends of the earth;" - namely the schemer - the visionary projector. The truly intelligent man applies the plain and obvious dictates of common sense and prudence to the attainment of his ends ; and in the quiet and persevering application of evidently appropriate means, he pursues and gains them. But the scheming, visionary fool is for ever after out-of-the-way plans, new and far-fetched expedients ; ever experimenting, where experiment is useless ; ever theorizing, and ever failing: - yet by no failure convinced or corrected; but still, instead of fixing his eye on the near, gazing out on the far off; - and instead of patiently looking for the regular produce of his own proper occupation, projecting something neiv, and generally as wild and harebrained as new ; looking for his income from a distance, from something yet, and yet to be tried, - expecting good to come to him from " the ends of the earth." Thus, in every view, the fool resembles the man who, on a road that is full of traps and pits and snares, and beset with dangers on right and left, instead of having (to use a colloquial expression) all his eyes about him, has them roving, in idle vacancy, on far distant object.?. Verse 26. "Also to punish, the just is not good, nor tc strike princes for equity." - The word rendered prince signi-

166 LECTURE XL VIII. fies noble, and is differently understood. It may be applied to the nobility of station, or to that of mind. Some give preference to the latter; and by interpreting it of the noble-

minded, and the "just" in the former clause, of the righteous or the people of God, make the two clauses thus to correspond, and to have much the same import. It seems, however, both more natural and more comprehensive, to consider two ideas as expresses! ; the one relating to the duty of the rider, and the other to that of the ruled. It is the incumbent duty of the ruler, on the one part, to administer justice with strict impartiality. It is the duty, on the other part, of subjects to countenance, encourage, and support the ruler in the equitable administration of his trust. To "strike" is evidently to be understood, not literally alone of actual striking, but of "smiting with the tongue" as well as with the fist or the rod, - of all kinds of vituperation and abuse, and attempts to bring the throne into disrepute and odium, and unsettle its stability, by shaking the confidence and attachment of the community. There are many occasions in which a man may be tempted to this. He may, in particular cases, have his mind biassed by pride, by self-interest, by partiality towards a friend, by political predilections; so that even when all has been done with impartial investigation, and the judgment pronounced according to the legitimate rules of evidence and demands of equity, there may be unfair, unreasonable, and angry dissatisfaction ; and the prince may be smitten for justice. Every man ought to be on his guard against this. The higher the responsibility, - the more burdensome and difficult the trust, - and the more serious the results of bringing authorities and the laws into disesteem, and unsettling public confidence in them, - ought to be the amount of our reluctant caution in pronouncing censure. Another remark may be ventured. One of the great difficulties with which governments of great nations have to contend, arises from the variety of crossing and contending interests with which they have to deal. How anxious soever they may honestly be, to allow no undue bias to draw them from the line of impartial justice, yet there is hardly a

PllO VERBS XVII. 21-28. 167

measure they can adopt that does not affect differently different classes of the community ; so that, from their various predisposing circumstances, that shall appear to one class, - ? to those in one particular department of trade or commerce, - the very essence of injustice, which by another is lauded as a most unexceptionable exemplification of impartial equity. This ought surely to have the effect, - I do not by any means say of forbidding the most vigilant observance and the freest and most searching scrutiny and discussion of every measure, and the exposure of its evil or questionable character and tendency, - but assuredly of procuring some allowance for the difficulty of the task of pleasing all parties, and some moderation in the tone of censure even where to us the grounds for it are clear and palpable. o man who knows himself will affirm, in almost any case, that, placed, in other circumstances, he might not see with other eyes. - I speak in general. There are cases, in which the interests of a suffering country are to a vast extent, involved, in which it becomes every man's paramount duty to speak out and to speak plainly, and to make the ears of the rulers to tingle with the outcry of humanity and justice. I would further apply the spirit of this verse to the case of arbitrators. We have ourselves, it may be, consented to submit a litigated point to arbitration. We do so with a full persuasion of our being in the right - of our claim being the just one. But the arbiters unite in giving it against us. It would be most unreasonable on our part to retain a grudge, especially at the one appointed by ourselves, on this account. Our reference implied confidence in his impartiality and honour, and implied a pledge of cheerful acquiescence. To grumble, to censure, and to withdraw our friendship, would be indeed to " strike him for equity." He would have proved himself unworthy of his trust, if his disposition to please and serve us had been too strong for principle, conscience, and oath. There is one government, in which "the just" are never 1 ' punished," - all whose laws and all whose sanctions are the

perfection of equity. But alas ! it is under that very gov-

168 LECTURE XLVIII. ernmeiit that the spirit expressed by the phrase " striking princes for equity" is most fearfully manifested. All the murmurings. of sinners against either the law of God or its revealed and threatened penalty, are the very essence, in its deepest malignity, of this spirit. There can never be reason for it here. Let sinners submit to God ; own the righteousness of His law, and the equity of its sanction, and bow to the outstretched sceptre of His grace. Verse 27. "He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit." * Modesty and diffidence, sound judgment and discretion, make the wise man "sparing of Ms words;" but the connexion naturally leads me to the view generally given of the passage - namely, that the wise man lays his tongue under restraint when his spirit is warm, and when he feels he would be in danger of speaking unadvisedly, improperly, injuriously to others or to himself. The plnase " an excellent sjririt" is on the margin, more literally, and in the present instance, I should think more appropriately - "a cool spirit." He has the power of self-control, of the government of his passions ; - he is meek and lowly in heart ; conciliatory and forgiving in his disposition. It is this that enables him to maintain coolness in his manner, even when inwardly, were he giving way to corrupt nature in its felt tendencies, his blood would boil over, and his lips utter perverse things. The fool might get a character for wisdom, had he only wit enough to be quiet; - "Even a fool, when he holdeth Ins peace, is counted wise : and he that shutteth Iris lips is esteemed a man of understanding." Folly, to be known, must be uttered. If it is kept in, it may pass undiscovered ;

and the very reserve might contribute to give a stranger the impression of wisdom ; since " he that hath knowledge spareth his words." But the loss of the fool is, that he " cannot withhold himself from speaking; and thus he cannot conceal his folly." * Comp. chap. x. 19. and chap. xv. 28. and see too Jam. i. 19 and 26.

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