Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry, , at sacred-texts.com
Here see, 1. What will be the credit and comfort of a poor man, and make him more excellent than his neighbour, though his poverty may expose him to contempt and may dispirit him. Let him be honest and walk in integrity, let him keep a good conscience and make it appear that he does so, let him always speak and act with sincerity when he is under the greatest temptations to dissemble and break his word, and then let him value himself upon that, for all wise and good men will value him. He is better, has a better character, is in a better condition, is better beloved, and lives to better purpose, than many a one that looks great and makes a figure. 2. What will be the shame of a rich man, notwithstanding all his pomp. If he have a shallow head and an evil tongue, if he is perverse in his lips and is a fool, if he is a wicked man and gets what he has by fraud and oppression, he is a fool, and an honest poor man is to be preferred far before him.
Two things are here declared to be of bad consequence: - 1. Ignorance: To be without the knowledge of the soul is not good, so some read it. Know we not our own selves, our own hearts? A soul without knowledge is not good; it is a great privilege that we have souls, but, if these souls have not knowledge, what the better are we? If man has not understanding, he is as the beasts, Psa 49:20. An ignorant soul cannot be a good soul. That the soul be without knowledge is not safe, nor pleasant; what good can the soul do, of what is it good for, if it be without knowledge? 2. Rashness. He that hastes with his feet (that does things inconsiderately and with precipitation, and will not take time to ponder the path of his feet) sins; he cannot but often miss the mark and take many a false step, which those prevent that consider their ways. As good not know as not consider.
We have here two instances of men's folly: - 1. That they bring themselves into straits and troubles, and run themselves a-ground, and embarrass themselves: The foolishness of man perverts his way. Men meet with crosses and disappointments in their affairs, and things do not succeed as they expected and wished, and it is owing to themselves and their own folly; it is their own iniquity that corrects them. 2. That when they have done so they lay the blame upon God, and their hearts fret against him, as if he had done them wrong, whereas really they wrong themselves. In fretting, we are enemies to our own peace, and become self-tormentors; in fretting against the Lord we affront him, his justice, goodness, and sovereignty; and it is very absurd to take occasion from the trouble which we pull upon our own heads by our wilfulness, or neglect, to quarrel with him, when we ought to blame ourselves, for it is our own doing. See Isa 50:1.
Here, 1. We may see how strong men's love of money is, that they will love any man, how undeserving soever he be otherwise, if he has but a deal of money and is free with it, so that they may hope to be the better for it. Wealth enables a man to send many presents, make many entertainments, and do many good offices, and so gains him many friends, who pretend to love him, for they flatter him and make their court to him, but really love what he has, or rather love themselves, hoping to get by him. 2. We may see how weak men's love of one another is. He who, while he prospered, was beloved and respected, if he fall into poverty is separated from his neighbour, is not owned nor looked upon, not visited nor regarded, is bidden to keep his distance and told he is troublesome. Even one that has been his neighbour and acquaintance will turn his face from him and pass by on the other side. Because men's consciences tell them they ought to relieve and succour such, they are willing to have this excuse, that they did not see them.
Here we have, 1. The sins threatened - bearing false witness in judgment and speaking lies in common conversation. Men could not arrive at such a pitch of impiety as to bear false witness (where to the guilt of a lie is added that of perjury and injury) if they had not advanced to it by allowing themselves to speak untruths in jest and banter, or under pretence of doing good. Thus men teach their tongues to speak lies, Jer 9:5. Those that will take a liberty to tell lies in discourse are in a fair way to be guilty of the greater wickedness of false-witness-bearing, whenever they are tempted to it, though they seemed to detest it. Those that can swallow a false word debauch their consciences, so that a false oath will not choke them. 2. The threatening itself: They shall not go unpunished; they shall not escape. This intimates that that which emboldens them in the sin is the hope of impunity, it being a sin which commonly escapes punishment from men, though the law is strict, Deu 19:18, Deu 19:19. But it shall not escape the righteous judgment of God, who is jealous, and will not suffer his name to be profaned; we know where all liars will have their everlasting portion.
These two verses are a comment upon Pro 19:4, and show, 1. How those that are rich and great are courted and caressed, and have suitors and servants in abundance. The prince that has power in his hand, and preferments at his disposal, has his gate and his ante-chamber thronged with petitioners, that are ready to adore him for what they can get. Many will entreat his favour, and think themselves happy in it. Even great men are humble suppliants to the prince. How earnest then should we be for the favour of God, which is far beyond that of any earthly prince. But, it should seem, liberality will go further than majesty itself to gain respect, for there are many that court the prince, but every man is a friend to him that gives gifts; not only those that have received, or do expect, gifts from him, will, as friends, be ready to serve him, but others also will, as friends, give him their good word. Prodigals, who are foolishly free of what they have, will have many hangers-on who will cry them up as long as it lasts, but will leave them when it is done. Those that are prudently generous make an interest by it which may stand them in good stead; those that are accounted benefactors exercise an authority which may give them an opportunity of doing good, Luk 22:25. 2. How those that are poor and low are slighted and despised. Men may, if they please, court the prince, and the princely, but they may not trample upon the poor and look at them with disdain. Yet so it often is: All the brethren of the poor do hate him; even his own relations are shy of him, because he is needy and craving, and expects something from them, and because they look upon him as a blemish to their family; and then no marvel if others of his friends, that were nothing akin to him, go far from him, to get out of his way. He pursues them with words, hoping to prevail with them by his importunity to be kind to him, but all in vain; they have nothing for him. They pursue him with words (so some understand it), to excuse themselves from giving him any thing; they tell him that he is idle and impertinent, that he has brought himself into poverty, and therefore ought not to be relieved; as Nabal said to David's messengers: "There are many servants now a days that run away from their masters; and how do I know but that David may be one of them?" Let poor people therefore make God their friend, pursue him with their prayers, and he will not be wanting to them.
Those are here encouraged, 1. That take pains to get wisdom, to get knowledge, and grace, and acquaintance with God; those that do so show that they love their own souls, and will be found to have done themselves the greatest kindness imaginable. No man ever hated his own flesh, but loves that, yet many are wanting in love to their own souls, for only those love their souls, and consequently love themselves, aright, that get wisdom, true wisdom. 2. That take care to keep it when they have got it; it is health, and wealth, and honour, and all, to the soul, and therefore he that keeps understanding, as he shows that he loves his own soul, so he shall certainly find good, all good. He that retains the good lessons he has learnt, and orders his conversation according to them, shall find the benefit and comfort of it in his own soul and shall be happy here and for ever.
Here is, 1. A repetition of what was said before (Pro 19:5), for we have need to be again and again warned of the danger of the sin of lying and false-witness-bearing, since nothing is of more fatal consequence. 2. An addition to it in one word; there it was said, He that speaks lies shall not escape, and intimated that he shall be punished. Here it is said, His punishment shall be such as will be his destruction: he shall perish; the lies he forged against others will be his own ruin. It is a damning destroying sin.
Note, 1. Pleasure and liberty ill become a fool: Delight is not seemly for such a one. A man that has not wisdom and grace has no right nor title to true joy, and therefore it is unseemly. It ill becomes those that do not delight in God to delight in any thing, nor how to manage themselves, and therefore they do but expose themselves. It becomes ungracious fools to be afflicted, and mourn, and weep, not to laugh and be merry; rebukes are more proper for them than delights. Delight is seemly for a man of business, to refresh him when he is fatigued, but not for a fool, that lives an idle life and abuses his recreations. The prosperity of fools discovers their folly and destroys them. 2. Power and honour ill become a man of a servile spirit. Nothing is more unseemly than for a servant to have rule over princes; it is absurd in itself, and very preposterous, for none are so insolent and intolerable as a beggar on horseback, a servant when he reigns, Pro 30:22. It is very unseemly for one that is a servant to sin and his lusts to rule over and oppress those that are God's freemen and made kings and priests to him.
A wise man will observe these two rules about his anger: 1. Not to be over-hasty in his resentments: Discretion teaches us to defer our anger, to defer the admission of it till we have thoroughly considered all the merits of the provocation, seen them in a true light and weighed them in a just balance; and then to defer the prosecution of it till there be no danger of running into any indecencies. Plato said to his servant, "I would beat thee, but that I am angry." Give it time, and it will cool. 2. Not to be over-critical in his resentments. Whereas it is commonly looked upon as a piece of ingenuity to apprehend an affront quickly, it is here made a man's glory to pass over a transgression, to appear as if he did not see it (Psa 38:13), or, if he sees fit to take notice of it, yet to forgive it and meditate no revenge.
This is to the same purport with what we had Pro 16:14, Pro 16:15, and the design of it is, 1. To make kings wise and considerate in dispensing their frowns and smiles. They are not like those of common persons; their frowns are very terrible and their smiles very comfortable, and therefore it concerns them to be very careful that they never frighten a good man from doing well with their frowns, nor ever give countenance to a wicked man in doing ill with their smiles, for then they abuse their influence, Rom 13:3. 2. To make subjects faithful and dutiful to their princes. Let them be restrained from all disloyalty by the consideration of the dreadful consequence of having the government against them; and let them be encouraged in all good services to the public by the hopes of the favour of their prince. Christ is a King whose wrath against his enemies will be as the roaring of a lion (Rev 10:3) and his favour to his own people as the refreshing dew, Psa 72:6.
It is an instance of the vanity of the world that we are liable to the greatest grief in those things wherein we promise ourselves the greatest comfort. It is as it proves. What greater temporal comfort can a man have than a good wife and good children? Yet, 1. A foolish son is a great affliction, and may make a man wish a thousand times he had been written childless. A son that will apply himself to no study or business, that will take no advice, that lives a lewd, loose, rakish life, and spends what he has extravagantly, games it away and wastes it in the excess of riot, or that is proud, foppish, and conceited, such a one is the grief of his father, because he is the disgrace, and is likely to be the ruin, of his family. He hates all his labour, when he sees to whom he must leave the fruit of it. 2. A cross peevish wife is as great an affliction: Her contentions are continual; every day, and every hour in the day, she finds some occasion to make herself and those about her uneasy. Those that are accustomed to chide never want something or other to chide at; but it is a continual dropping, that is, a continual vexation, as it is to have a house so much out of repair that it rains in and a man cannot lie dry in it. That man has an uncomfortable life, and has need of a great deal of wisdom and grace to enable him to bear his affliction and do his duty, who has a sot for his son and a scold for his wife.
Note, 1. A discreet and virtuous wife is a choice gift of God's providence to a man - a wife that is prudent, in opposition to one that is contentious, Pro 19:13. For, though a wife that is continually finding fault may think it is her wit and wisdom to be so, it is really her folly; a prudent wife is meek and quiet, and makes the best of every thing. If a man has such a wife, let him not ascribe it to the wisdom of his own choice or his own management (for the wisest have been deceived both in and by a woman), but let him ascribe it to the goodness of God, who made him a help meet for him, and perhaps by some hits and turns of providence that seemed casual brought her to him. Every creature is what he makes it. Happy marriages, we are sure, are made in heaven; Abraham's servant prayed in the belief of this, Gen 24:12. 2. It is a more valuable gift than house and riches, contributes more to the comfort and credit of a man's life and the welfare of his family, is a greater token of God's favour, and about which the divine providence is in a more especial manner conversant. A good estate may be the inheritance of fathers, which, by the common direction of Providence, comes in course to a man; but no man has a good wife by descent or entail. Parents that are worldly, in disposing of their children, look no further than to match them to house and riches, but, if withal it be to a prudent wife, let God have the glory.
See here the evil of a sluggish slothful disposition. 1. It stupefies men, and makes them senseless, and mindless of their own affairs, as they were cast into a deep sleep, dreaming much, but doing nothing. Slothful people doze away their time, bury their talents, live a useless life, and are the unprofitable burdens of the earth; for any service they do when they are awake they might as well be always asleep. Even their souls are idle and lulled asleep, their rational powers chilled and frozen. 2. It impoverishes men and brings them to want. Those that will not labour cannot expect to eat, but must suffer hunger: An idle soul, one that is idle in the affairs of his soul, that takes no care or pains to work out his salvation, shall perish for want of that which is necessary to the life and happiness of the soul.
Here is, 1. The happiness of those that walk circumspectly. Those that make conscience of keeping the commandment in every thing, that live by rule, as becomes servants and patients, keep their own souls; they secure their present peace and future bliss, and provide every way well for themselves. If we keep God's word, God's word will keep us from every thing really hurtful. 2. The misery of those that live at large and never mind what they do: Those that despair their ways shall die, shall perish eternally; they are in the high road to ruin. With respect to those that are careless about the end of their ways, and never consider whither they are going, and about the rule of their ways, that will walk in the way of their hearts and after the course of the world (Ecc 11:9), that never consider what they have done nor what they are concerned to do, but walk at all adventures (Lev 26:21), right or wrong, it is all one to them - what can come of this but the greatest mischief?
Here is, I. The duty of charity described. It includes two things: - 1. Compassion, which is the inward principle of charity in the heart; it is to have pity on the poor. Those that have not a penny for the poor, yet may have pity for them, a charitable concern and sympathy; and, if a man give all his goods to feed the poor and have not this charity in his heart, it is nothing, Co1 13:3. We must draw out our souls to the hungry, Isa 58:10. 2. Bounty and liberality. We must not only pity the poor, but give, according to their necessity and our ability, Jam 2:15, Jam 2:16. That which he has given. Margin, His deed. It is charity to do for the poor, as well as to give; and thus, if they have their limbs and senses, they may be charitable to one another.
II. The encouragement of charity. 1. A very kind construction shall be put upon it. What is given to the poor, or done for them, God will place it to account as lent to him, lent upon interest (so the word signifies); he takes it kindly, as if it were done to himself, and he would have us take the comfort of it and to be as well pleased as ever any usurer was when he had let out a sum of money into good hands. 2. A very rich recompence shall be made for it: He will pay him again, in temporal, spiritual, and eternal blessings. Almsgiving is the surest and safest way of thriving.
Parents are here cautioned against a foolish indulgence of their children that are untoward and viciously inclined, and that discover such an ill temper of mind as is not likely to be cured but by severity. 1. Do not say that it is all in good time to correct them; no, as soon as ever there appears a corrupt disposition in them check it immediately, before it gets head, and takes root, and is hardened into a habit: Chasten thy son while there is hope, for perhaps, if he be let alone awhile, he will be past hope, and a much greater chastening will not do that which now a less would effect. It is easiest plucking up weeds as soon as they spring up, and the bullock that is designed for the yoke should be betimes accustomed to it. 2. Do not say that it is a pity to correct them, and that, because they cry and beg to be forgiven, you cannot find in your heart to do it. If the point can be gained without correction, well and good; but if you find, as it often proves, that your forgiving them once, upon a dissembled repentance and promise of amendment, does but embolden them to offend again, especially if it be a thing that is in itself sinful (as lying, swearing, ribaldry, stealing, or the like), in such a case put on resolution, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. It is better that he should cry under thy rod than under the sword of the magistrate, or, which is more fearful, that of divine vengeance.
1. As we read this, it intimates, in short, that angry men never want woe. Those that are of strong, or rather headstrong, passions, commonly bring themselves and their families into trouble by vexatious suits and quarrels and the provocations they give; they are still smarting, in one instance or other, for their ungoverned heats; and, if their friends deliver them out of one trouble, they will quickly involve themselves in another, and they must do it again, all which troubles to themselves and others would be prevented if they would mortify their passions and get the rule of their own spirits. 2. It may as well be read, He that is of great wrath (meaning the child that is to be corrected and is impatient of rebuke, cries and makes a noise, even that wrath of his against the rod of correction) deserves to be punished; for, if thou deliver him for the sake of that, thou wilt be forced to punish him so much the more next time. A stomachful high-spirited child must be subdued betimes, or it will be the worse for it.
Note, 1. It is well with those that are wise in their latter end, wise for their latter end, for their future state, wise for another world, that are found wise when their latter end comes, wise virgins, wise builders, wise stewards, that are wise at length, and understand the things that belong to their peace, before they be hidden from their eyes. A carnal worldling at his end shall be a fool (Jer 17:11), but godliness will prove wisdom at last. 2. Those that would be wise in their latter end must hear counsel and receive instruction, in their beginnings must be willing to be taught and ruled, willing to be advised and reproved, when they are young. Those that would be stored in winter must gather in summer.
Here we have, 1. Men projecting. They keep their designs to themselves, but they cannot hide them from God; he knows the many devices that are in men's hearts, - devices against his counsels (as those, Psa 2:1-3; Mic 4:11), - devices without his counsel (no regard had to his providence, as those Jam 4:13, this and the other they will do, and not take God along with them), - devices unlike God's counsels; men are wavering in their devices, and often absurd and unjust, but God's counsels are wise and holy, steady and uniform. 2. God overruling. Various men have various designs, according as their inclination or interest leads them, but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand, whatever becomes of the devices of men. His counsel often breaks men's measures and baffles their devices; but their devices cannot in the least alter his counsel, not disturb the proceedings of it, nor put him upon new counsels, Isa 14:24; Isa 46:11. What a check does this give to politic designing men, who think they can outwit all mankind, that there is a God in heaven that laughs at them! Psa 2:4. What comfort does this speak to all God's people, that all God's purposes, which we are sure are right and good, shall be accomplished in due time!
Note, 1. The honour of doing good is what we may laudably be ambitious of. It cannot but be the desire of man, if he have any spark of virtue in him, to be kind; one would not covet an estate for any thing so much as thereby to be put into a capacity of relieving the poor and obliging our friends. 2. It is far better to have a heart to do good and want ability for it than have ability for it and want a heart to it: The desire of a man to be kind, and charitable, and generous, is his kindness, and shall be so construed; both God and man will accept his good-will, according to what he has, and will not expect more. A poor man, who wishes you well, but can promise you nothing, because he has nothing to be kind with, is better than a liar, than a rich man who makes you believe he will do mighty things, but, when it comes to the setting to, will do nothing. the character of the men of low degree, that they are vanity, from whom nothing is expected, is better than that of men of high degree, that they are a lie, they deceive those whose expectations they raised.
See what those that get by it that live in the fear of God, and always make conscience of their duty to him. 1. Safety: They shall not be visited with evil; they may be visited with sickness or other afflictions, but there shall be no evil in them, nothing to hurt them, because nothing to separate them from the love of God, or hurt to the soul. 2. Satisfaction: They shall abide satisfied; they shall have those comforts which are satisfying, and shall have a constant contentment and complacency in them. It is a satisfaction which will abide, whereas all the satisfactions of sense are transient and soon gone. Satur pernoctabit, non cubabit incoenatus - He shall not go supperless to bed; he shall have that which will make him easy and be an entertainment to him in his silent and solitary hours, Psa 16:6, Psa 16:7. 3. True and complete happiness. Serious godliness has a direct tendency to life; to all good, to eternal life; it is the sure and ready way to it; there is something in the nature of it fitting men for heaven and so leading them to it.
A sluggard is here exposed as a fool, for, 1. All his care is to save himself from labour and cold. See his posture: He hides his hand in his bosom, pretends he is lame and cannot work; his hands are cold, and he must warm them in his bosom; and, when they are warm there, he must keep them so. He hugs himself in his own ease and is resolved against labour and hardship. Let those work that love it; for his part he thinks there is no such fine life as sitting still and doing nothing. 2. He will not be at the pains to feed himself, an elegant hyperbole; as we say, A man is so lazy that he would not shake fire off him, so here, He cannot find in his heart to take his hand out of his bosom, no, not to put meat into his own mouth. If the law be so that those that will not labour must not eat, he will rather starve than stir. Thus his sin is his punishment, and therefore is egregious folly.
Note, 1. The punishment of scorners will be a means of good to others. When men are so hardened in wickedness that they will not themselves be wrought upon by the severe methods that are used to reclaim and reform them, yet such methods must be used for the sake of others, that they may hear and fear, Deu 19:20. If the scorner will not be recovered from his sin, the disease being inveterate, yet the simple will beware of venturing upon the sin which exposes men thus. If it cure not the infected, it may prevent the spreading of the infection. 2. The reproof of wise men will be a means of good to themselves. They need not be smitten; a word to the wise is enough. Do but reprove one that has understanding and he will so far understand himself and his own interest that he will understand knowledge by it, and not miss it again through ignorance and inadvertency when once he has been told of it; so kindly does he take reproof and so wisely improve it.
Here is, 1. The sin of a prodigal son. Besides the wrong he does to himself, he is injurious to his good parents, and basely ungrateful to those that were instruments of his being and have taken so much care and pains about him, which is a great aggravation of his sin and renders it exceedingly sinful in the eyes of God and man: He wastes is father, wastes his estate which he should have to support him in his old age, wastes his spirits, and breaks his heart, and brings his gray head with sorrow to the grave. He chases away his mother, alienates her affections from him, which cannot be done without a great deal of regret and uneasiness to her; he makes her weary of the house, with his rudeness and insolence, and glad to retire for a little quietness; and, when he has spent all, he turns her out of doors. 2. The shame of a prodigal son. It is a shame to himself that he should be so brutish and unnatural. He makes himself odious to all mankind. It is a shame to his parents and family, who are reflected upon, though, perhaps, without just cause, for teaching him no better, or being in some way wanting to him.
This is a good caution to those that have had a good education to take heed of hearkening to those who, under pretence of instructing them, draw them off from those good principles under the influence of which they were trained up. Observe, 1. There is that which seems designed for instruction, but really tends to the destruction of young men. The factors for vice will undertake to teach them free thoughts and a fashionable conversation, how to palliate the sins they have a mind to and stop the mouth of their own consciences, how to get clear of the restraints of their education and to set up for wits and beaux. This is the instruction which causes to err from the forms of sound words, which should be held fast in faith and love. 2. It is the wisdom of young men to turn a deaf ear to such instructions, as the adder does to the charms that are designed to ensnare her. "Dread hearing such talk as tends top instil loose principles into the mind; and, if thou art linked in with such, break off from them; thou hast heard enough, or too much, and therefore hear no more of the evil communication which corrupts good manners."
Here is a description of the worst of sinners, whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil. 1. They set that at defiance which would deter and detain them from sin: An ungodly witness is one that bears false witness against his neighbour, and will forswear himself to do another a mischief, in which there is not only great injustice, but great impiety; this is one of the worst of men. Or an ungodly witness is one that profanely and atheistically witnesses against religion and godliness, whose instructions seduce from the words of knowledge (Pro 19:27); such a one scorns judgment, laughs at the terrors of the Lord, mocks at that fear, Job 15:26. Tell him of law and equity, that the scriptures and an oath are sacred things, and not to be jested with, that there will come a reckoning day; he laughs at it all, and scorns to heed it. 2. They are greedy, and glad of that which gives them an opportunity to sin: The mouth of the wicked eagerly devours iniquity, drinks it in like water, Job 15:16.
Note, 1. Scorners are fools. Those that ridicule things sacred and serious do but make themselves ridiculous. Their folly shall be manifest unto all men. 2. Those that scorn judgments cannot escape them, Pro 19:28. The unbelief of man shall not make God's threatenings of no effect; those that devour iniquity swallow the hook with the bait. The civil magistrate has judgments prepared for scorners, for otherwise he would bear the sword in vain; but if he be remiss, and connive at sin, yet God's judgments slumber not; they are prepared, Mat 25:41.