Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end.
~ Matthew 13:9, Proverbs 18:1, Psalm 119:111-112
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
~ Isaiah 55:3
A Commentary on Proverbs 2, by George Lawson. 1829.
Wisdom is an excellent thing, therefore get wisdom. But how shall we get wisdom? or in what shall the attainment of it profit us? You have an answer to both these questions in this chapter.
How shall we get wisdom? The wise man answers,
Proverbs 2:1–7. My son, if you will receive my sayings, And treasure my commandments within you, 2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; 3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God. 6For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, It is not enough for us to attend the public ordinances of God, and to read a chapter or two of the Bible at home every day, but we are required to receive the words of wisdom, to keep them in our hearts, and to apply our souls to them.
We are to receive the words of our heavenly Father, with reverence and love, with faith and diligent attention. No gift is so precious as that knowledge which God imparts to us in the scriptures, and we ought to receive it with eagerness, like that which the covetous man shews for gold and silver; and as he who receives money is careful to lay it up where he may find it when he has occasion to use it, so in like manner it becomes us to lay up in the midst of our heart the instructions of wisdom, collecting and hiding the precious treasure, till the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. When we give due attention to the word of truth, it will dwell in our minds, dispelling ignorance and error, and communicating that light which is necessary to direct the whole of our conduct; in our memories, affording a constant supply for spiritual meditation, ready for use on every emergency; in our wills, to guide their choice and inclination; in our affections, to direct their motions, to curb their extravagance, and to inflame their ardour towards spiritual objects; and in our consciences, to preserve alive the impressions of the divine law, and to direct them in judging of the spiritual state of the soul.
The ear must be inclined to wisdom, that we may learn it. The senses of the body minister to the soul. The eye, surveying the wonders of God’s hand, furnishes the soul with apprehensions of his power and wisdom; but the ear is that learning sense by which the richest treasures of spiritual knowledge are admitted into the soul. As the mouth tastes the food of the body, so the ear receives and tries those words that nourish the soul. We attend to our friends or neighbours when they are informing us of some new thing; we count it a piece of good manners to listen, when nothing is to be heard but dulness and insipidity: shall we not, then, attend to Him that made the ear, when he condescends to speak to us, and to disclose truths of eternal moment?
Whilst our ears are attentive, our hearts must be applied to wisdom. Angels, who are so much our superiors, apply themselves to the learning of it. They are already replenished with the stores of truth, and yet they desire to pry deeper into the mystery of wisdom. Great as was the measure which Solomon had received, he still continued to apply his heart to it; surely, then, the wisest of us ought to apply our whole hearts; for what is so needful to us, and so valuable in itself?
But after all our application, we have understandings so dark, that the Bible must remain a sealed book unto us, unless our eyes are enlightened to discern the wonders of God’s law. With our instructions, therefore, earnest prayer must be mingled, that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation may illuminate our understandings, and fit our souls for receiving and retaining the truths of God. David was wiser than his teachers, and yet he still lifts up his voice for wisdom to the Father of lights, and pleads, with fervent importunity, that God would open his eyes, and not conceal his laws from him, nor take the word of truth out of his mouth. Let us, in imitation of such a holy example, earnestly pray that we may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God; and particularly, that we may be furnished with all that wisdom and knowledge that is requisite for directing us in our respective stations and circumstances. Solomon was already a wise man, yet when commanded to chuse what he would have, he chose a greater measure of wisdom, of that wisdom especially which would be most useful for him in governing the kingdom of Israel. With this petition God was well pleased. He gave him not only what he requested, but everything most highly valued by men.
But while we cry after wisdom, and depend on God to bestow it on us, it would be presumptuous to neglect the means of obtaining it. We must seek it as silver, and search for it as for hid treasure. We every day see with what anxious diligence men seek for silver. They fatigue their bodies, and waste their spirits; they destroy their health, and expose their lives; they even wound their consciences, and expose themselves to shameful deaths and everlasting misery, that they may load themselves with shining clay. Shall the professed disciples of the great Teacher set less value upon knowledge, than other men set upon silver? David well knew the value of this knowledge, and esteemed it above thousands of gold and silver. Job prefers it to every thing that dazzles with its lustre the eyes of mortals.
It is therefore highly reasonable, that we diligently and carefully use all those means which God hath appointed for this end; that we hear sermons with earnest attention; that we read and search the word of God, and make it the subject of our frequent meditation; that we make use of edifying conversation; that we go to the wise, who have the law of God in their hearts, so that their mouth speaks wisdom, and their tongue talks of judgment. To the use of such means of improvement as these, we must add prayer for the divine blessing, to render them effectual to our instruction and salvation. Truth is like a mine, more precious than that which is the depository of gold and of diamonds. Had any of us such a precious treasure as this in our garden, we would not travel over the ground for pleasure, but employ ourselves day and night in digging, till our houses should be enriched with the precious store. Why, then, are we careless about that which will enrich us to eternity, and fill all our treasures?
You see the means to be used by us for attaining wisdom. Our ears and hearts must be employed in the search. We must lift up our voices to the Author of wisdom, and seek for it with all the desire of our souls, and with such earnest endeavours as men use in digging for hid treasures. Through the blessing of God the search shall not be unsuccessful; for “then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” It is plain that those who employ themselves in the diligent pursuit of wisdom, have been already blessed with some degree of true knowledge; for how could they value so highly that with which they were altogether unacquainted? He is already wise, who prefers wisdom to every earthly object; and he shall be wiser still, for to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.
The fear of the Lord, and the sound knowledge of God, are inseparably connected. Religious fear is not a blind and tormenting passion of the soul, but a holy and delightful grace, founded in true apprehensions of the awful and lovely glories of the divine nature, and disposing him who possesses it, to walk with God. The knowledge of God regulates this fear, and preserves it from sinking into terror, or degenerating into superstition, but guides it to express its power in checking and subduing every corrupt affection, and animating the soul to every instance of obedience.
If men are careless about wisdom, and use no diligence in seeking it, they make it evident that they are destitute of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. They have not, and from them shall be taken even that which they seem to have.
The efficacy of every means of knowledge is from God, for “the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” Every beam of reason in men, is communicated from the wisdom of God. The simplest of the mechanical arts cannot be acquired unless men are taught of God†. How, then, can we expect to understand the mystery of the divine will, without spiritual light communicated from that God who is the Father of lights, and the author of every good and perfect gift!
Knowledge and understanding cometh out of the mouth of God. By his Spirit he bestows upon us this blessing through his word, for it is the inspiration of the Almighty that giveth understanding to men. Experience, however long, observation, however close, human teaching, however skilful, can do nothing to supply us with true knowledge, without the influence of that Spirit which rested upon Christ as a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and which is given by him to all his followers in their measure‡.
The wisdom that God in his kindness bestows upon men, is sound and substantial. There are many kinds of knowledge of little importance. The knowledge which some possess tends only to vex and disquiet them, or to inspire them with vanity and self-conceit. How different the knowledge that God imparts to the diligent students of wisdom! Far from perplexing or elating, it fills their understanding with the most pleasant truths, and directs them in the way everlasting.
But who are the blessed persons that are favoured with this divinely excellent wisdom? “The Lord lays it up for the righteous.” God is said to teach sinners in the way; for man’s unworthiness does not exclude him from divine mercy. Saul the persecutor had the Son of God revealed in him by divine grace, and neither his stubborn prejudices, nor his cruelty to the church of Christ, could shut out the beams of heavenly light. Sinners are invited to Christ as the light of the Gentiles, and the salvation of the lost†; but here it is said, he lays it up for the righteous. Sinners and fools may have it, but the righteous shall have it. They are already made sensible of their need of it, and desire it more than silver and gold. They ask it from God, who giveth liberally to all men, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given them. The Lord layeth up this wisdom for them. There are infinite stores of it in his possession, and they are all treasured up in Christ, and out of his fulness shall the righteous receive supplies suited to their exigencies.
To encourage God’s people to expect all needful supplies of wisdom from him, let them consider his peculiar regard to them, and the constant protection he has engaged to afford them.
Proverbs 2:7, 8. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones
Whoso hearkeneth unto wisdom shall dwell safely, for God is a sure defence to those that walk in wisdom’s ways. There are many adversaries that would destroy them if they could, and these are too strong for them; but there is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, that rideth on the heavens in their help, and in his excellency in the skies. While therefore they are walking to their eternal home, they may sing in the ways of the Lord. Mighty is their protector; in the shadow of his wings they may trust, and to his faithfulness they may look as their shield and buckler.
The most dreadful enemies of them that walk uprightly, are those that endeavour to turn aside the way of their paths; but against these enemies God is a mighty defence, for he keepeth the paths of wisdom and righteousness. He is a fence about their ways, and a wall of fire around those that walk in them. The devil casteth his fiery darts, but they are safe from the arrow that flieth by day, and from the noisome pestilence. No weapon formed against them shall prosper. They are commanded still to trust in the name of the Lord, and their faith is like a shield that will quench every fiery dart. The world displays its terrors and its charms to terrify or allure them into the paths of sin. Against this, as well as the adversary formerly mentioned, they must exercise vigilance. Still, however, in the hottest part of the combat they may be of good cheer, for the Captain of their salvation hath overcome the world, and shall make them through their faith to share in his victory.
Their own remaining corruptions give them many alarms. Nor is it wonderful that they feel alarmed when ready to halt by its influence, or powerfully solicited to turn aside unto the flowery but destructive paths where poisons grow and serpents haunt. But their fears shall not overpower them, for the spirit lusts against the flesh, and shall prevail. What says their Almighty guide? “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
Those that walk in the paths of judgment are God’s saints. He has beautified them with holiness, and he acknowledges them as his own property. They are his portion and the lot of his inheritance, his treasure and his glory, and he will suffer none of them to be lost. Every one of them shall be hid in the day when he maketh up his jewels.
Let us ask for these good old ways, and walk in them, and we shall find rest and safety for our souls. They are safe paths when God guards them, and preserves the way of those that walk in them. No lion, no ravenous beast is found there; and the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein. But it is our duty, while we trust in God to guide and preserve us, to make use of our eyes. None of Zion’s travellers shall be found wanting in the end, but many too that thought themselves in the good way shall fail of the end of their hopes, because they entered not in at the gate, neither trod the narrow path. He that is born of God keepeth himself, that the wicked one toucheth him not. We cannot by our utmost care keep ourselves in safety; but a true dependence upon God will dispose us to be as sober and vigilant as if we had none else to keep us, while we yet trust entirely in God, and not in ourselves, knowing that if left to ourselves one hour, we must perish.
You see that the lovers of wisdom are furnished with the best wisdom, and led into those paths of holiness where safety is to be found. In order to persuade us to hearken to the instructions of wisdom, the wise man adds—
Proverbs 2:9. Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course.
There is no end of the commendation of the ways of wisdom. The fear and knowledge of God is not only the beginning, but the perfection of wisdom. But the lovers of wisdom have those instructions also which are necessary for guiding them in their behaviour toward men. They are taught how to walk justly and wisely, and in what manner to behave in every affair.
When a traveller is going to a distant place, it is pleasant to him to be informed that his way is safe, and that it may be found without difficulty. Now, as the way of holiness is the way of peace, so the scriptures give us sufficient directions for every step of it. Are we at a loss about our duty in any case? We may then safely infer, either that we have forgotten what our directory says, or that we are not skilful in applying it. Our carelessness in the study of this rule of life may often put us to a stand, therefore we ought to have it daily in our hands, and to meditate on it day and night, so shall we find it a counsellor in all our straits.
The Spirit is promised as our guide through this world, and he directs us by his word, opening our minds to understand it, and directing our conduct in the way that it prescribes. Is the saint at a loss with regard to the way of duty in any particular instance? Let him pray, as David did in such cases, and like this holy man, he shall be led in the way of truth.
Solomon has instructed us how to obtain wisdom, and in part shewn the advantages of it. He insists on this last point through the remaining part of this chapter, telling us that it will preserve us from the snares of wicked men and women, Pr 2:10–19. and lead us in the way that has been traced by the saints in every age, who have found it to be the way of happiness and joy, Pr 2:20, 21, 22. Wisdom will be a preservative from the worst dangers.
Proverbs 2:10 For wisdom will enter your heart, And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; 11 Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you,
That we may enjoy the advantages of wisdom, it must enter into our heart, which is naturally disposed to entertain sin and folly; for man, however fond he may be of the reputation of wisdom, is born like the wild ass’s colt. Some receive the words of wisdom into their ears, but understand not what they hear; others hear, and form clear apprehensions of what they hear, so as to be able to talk of them, like Balaam or Judas, and instruct others. But the children of wisdom not only hear and understand, but love the truth. The Spirit of God writes it in the inward part; then it comes to them in power and in the Holy Ghost, and the testimonies of God are received by their spirits with pleasure and joy. Knowledge becomes sweeter than honey dropping from the comb, and is esteemed more than necessary food. Paul counted every thing but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. When Jeremiah found the word of God, he did eat it, and it was to him the joy and rejoicing of his heart.
The pleasure that saints take in knowledge, is very different from the transient affection experienced in the word by those hearers whom our Lord compares to stony ground. These false believers were moved and transported by the novelty of the truth, by the prospect of deliverance from hell and possession of heaven which it presented to them, but they had no spiritual apprehensions of its divine glory, nor any deep-rooted affection to it. They still loved the world more than the testimonies of God, and this reigning earthliness of spirit in time choked the beautiful springing of this seed in their souls. But those into whose hearts wisdom enters, have their eyes opened to see its glory, and their affections sanctified to relish its genuine sweetness. They rejoice in the truths that oppose their most darling corruptions. They take pleasure in the way of God’s testimonies, as well as in the glorious prospects which they present. They heartily esteem all God’s precepts concerning all things to be right, and delight in the law of God after the inward man, because it is pure and spiritual. They delight in it, though it forces them to confess that they are carnal, sold under sin.
This wisdom entering into their souls, furnishes them with understanding to see their way, and discretion to manage their affairs with prudence and judgment to the end.
This understanding and prudence is an antidote aganst the poisonous infection of evil men and strange women.—It is, first, a means of preserving us from the snares of bad men.
Proverbs 2:12–15. To deliver you from the way of evil, From the man who speaks perverse things; From those who leave the paths of uprightness, To walk in the ways of darkness; Who delight in doing evil, And rejoice in the perversity of evil; Whose paths are crooked, And who are devious in their ways;
Such is the portrait drawn by Solomon of those bad men by whom his pupils are in danger of being seduced, unless furnished with wisdom to avoid the snare. They speak froward things; they pay no regard to truth, but bend their tongue like their bow for lies. Among these pests of men, none are such virulent pests of every thing that is good, as those that once made a profession of religion, but have left the way of uprightness to walk in those miserable and gloomy paths, which begin in the darkness of the mind, and end in the darkness of hell. The stings of conscience which such persons experience, instead of reclaiming them, tend only to irritate their spirits, and inflame them into fierce enmity against religion. If, instead of being pierced with such stings, they are cursed with the conquest of their own consciences, they are hardened enough for the blackest sin, and prepared not only to do evil, but to work it with both hands greedily. They rejoice in the service of Satan,’ and no greater pleasure do they know than that which arises from seeing that his interests flourish, that his kingdom prospers. Such persons are crooked in their ways. The only straight way is the way of uprightness, but that sinners leave, and wander into paths where they are bewildered and lost. They know not whither they go, because darkness hath blinded their eyes. One sin leads them on to another, and that to a third, till at length they run into wickednesses, of which they could not have thought without horror when first they set foot in these deceitful paths.
These miscreants are froward and stubborn in their ways; and why? Custom has become a second nature to them, their hearts are become impenetrably hard, and proof against admonition. Yet look back to their early days, and you shall find them to have evinced tempers and dispositions very different. They would then have abhorred gross impieties, and were not without impressions of the necessity of virtue and holiness. But the unwearied adversary of mankind spread his toils around them, and employed such men as they are now become, to efface every good impression, and to lead them on, by slow and imperceptible degrees, to those lengths in wickedness at which they have now arrived. Had they been armed with the instructions of wisdom, and employed these in their own defence, what different persons might they now have been! Whilst they would mislead us by their persuasions, let us learn instruction from their miserable situation, and thankfully improve those means which God has afforded, to keep us out of the paths of destruction. God is our preserver, but he has been pleased to appoint the instructions of wisdom as our great defence against these instruments of mischief. The knowledge of the truth, and the cordial love of it, will open our eyes to our danger, and possess our hearts with a settled aversion to the practices of the ungodly. As our Lord repelled every temptation of the devil by the word of God, so when it abides in us, it will enable us to meet every temptation of the old serpent, and of his instruments, with safety and stedfast resolution.
Grace in the soul is weak of itself, but the seed of God shall remain for ever. The powers of hell shall never be able to extinguish it utterly, for it receives new supplies from the fountain of grace†.
Secondly, Wisdom, by its instructions received into the heart, will preserve us also from the malignant influence of bad women.
Proverbs 2:16–19. To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words; That leaves the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God; For her house sinks down to death, And her tracks lead to the dead; None who go to her return again, Nor do they reach the paths of life.
It is a great happiness for young people to escape the snares of the harlot, in which so many have been entangled and lost. A true love to the word of God is eminently fitted to secure such a happiness.
There is no viler object in nature than an adulteress. Her beauty is but a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout. Though born and baptised in a Christian land, she is to be looked upon as a heathen woman and a stranger; and as self-made brutes are greater monsters than natural brute beasts, so baptized heathens are by far the worst of pagans.
Her words may be sweet and soft to the inexperienced ear of a thoughtless youth, but she is only flattering with her lips. Honey and milk seem to be under her tongue, but it is the cruel venom of dragons.
She is a monster of ingratitude to that husband who was the guide and protector of her youth. All the fervours of her first love are forgotten. She returns the most cruel treatment for all that fond affection by which he bound her to him in the most endearing obligations.
But her profaneness is still more shocking; for she violates that sacred bond which was instituted by him whom she presumes to call her God, and regards not the marriage-oath which she swore by his great and awful name.
Shall a woman unfaithful to the best and kindest of friends,—a wretch that commits perjury without remorse,—prove faithful to any man? When she speaks fair, believe her not, for there are seven abominations in her heart.
Miserable are they who trust to her alluring professions, for there is scarcely a hope that they will recover themselves from the snare of the devil. Her house is full of the pestilence of sin, and will infect every one that enters with a mortal and almost incurable distemper. The mind is darkened, and the conscience deadened; the affections, too, are by uncleanness sunk into sensuality. How then can they again take hold of the paths of life? No doubt there is virtue in the blood and Spirit of Christ for the remission of the greatest sins, and the purification of the most defiled souls. It is even admitted, that whoremongers have been made illustrious monuments of the power of divine grace; but let it be remembered that these are miracles of grace. Who would cast himself into a deep pit, in the hopes of coming out alive, when almost all that fell into it were dashed in pieces or buried alive!
Whosoever pleaseth God, shall escape from this devouring deep. Let us therefore cleave to God’s judgments, and follow their direction, and keep at a distance from the place of temptation. How worthy of our imitation is the example of Joseph, who was tempted day by day, but hearkened not to his mistress to lie by her or to be with her, because he would not sin against God.
But wisdom will not only keep us from the paths of the wicked, it will also lead us in the way of good men.
Proverbs 2:20. So you will walk in the way of good men, And keep to the paths of the righteous.
It is not enough to refrain from wickedness, we must also work righteousness. We profess to be the servants of God, and it will be no sufficient excuse for a servant that has slept all day, to say that he did no mischief. There are two ways, in one or other of which all men walk,—the narrow way that leads unto life, and the broad way that leads to destruction. In the former way few walk, but it has been trodden by the feet of all who are worthy of our imitation. In it Abraham, and Job, and David walked, whilst those whose memorials are now perished, or whose names are remembered only to be execrated, were travelling in the broad way that leads to destruction. Which of these classes of persons would we chuse to follow in our course of life? If the former, we must take our directions from the wisdom taught by Solomon, and the other inspired writers. Those venerable men who have obtained a good report, and who through faith and patience inherit the promises, were close students of the word of God, so far as they enjoyed the benefit of its instructions; and by faith in its doctrines and promises, and a constant regard to its precepts, they obtained their good report. Happy shall we be if, like them, we esteem the word of God more than our necessary food, and keep the judgments of God still in our view;
Proverbs 2:21. For the upright will live in the land, And the blameless will remain in it;
They shall enjoy a long and a prosperous life, as far as it is for their real advantage, in that good land which God bestowed on his people, and shall, even when they are dead, possess it in the persons of their posterity, who are blessed for their sakes. Sinners enjoy not this happiness,
Proverbs 2:22. But the wicked will be cut off from the land, And the treacherous will be uprooted from it.
Must not the righteous leave the earth too? Yes: But the earth is a very different thing to the righteous, and to the wicked. To the latter it is all the heaven they ever have; to the righteous it is a place of preparation for heaven. Death is a kind messenger sent to the righteous by their heavenly Father, calling them to the possession of their eternal inheritance; to the wicked it is a messenger of wrath, summoning them to the abodes of misery. It is almost the beginning of happiness to God’s people, but the final conclusion of all that the wicked counted their happiness. To the righteous, death is a translation to a better life. To the wicked, it is destruction and woe. And is it all one to us whether we share with the wicked in the miseries of their latter end, or with Zion’s travellers in those everlasting joys that shall crown them when they attain the end of their faith?