The Proverbs refer us directly to the government of God on the earth, more entirely, because they are less prophetic, than even the Psalms. Prophecy, referring to Christ and the remnant, necessarily looked to His rejection and that of some of them from the earth, and hence, though dimly, brought in light from beyond; telling us at least of the resurrection and ascension of Christ and His session at the right hand of God, to go no farther. The Proverbs do not enter on such topics. They shew us what the practical path of a man is here below, as guided by the moral intelligence which the fear of God and the divine word will give him, what true wisdom will teach him. Only the book does shew that this wisdom is of God and cannot be really without Him, and thus leads us on to Him, though obscurely, who is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
The body of the book consists of details of practice, the first nine chapters more of general principles and the formal characters of evil to be avoided. What is in contrast with wisdom is self-will. Hence the beginning or principle of wisdom in us is the fear of God—here especially of Jehovah, because this was the name of God in covenant with the people, by whom that fear was to be guided, and which is another element in it. But the repression of our will leads us necessarily to the will of another, and the only true right source of conduct is God, for it is evident He is sovereign and has a right to will. But He has formed relationships and created duties, and man has acquired the knowledge of right and wrong; but reference to God can alone keep this steady and clear. For first of all, the first of all duties is to Him, and looking to Him alone keeps the eye single and clear from self, and as to its other duties. For, besides will and lawlessness in itself, the existence of the spirit of independence and our separation thereby from God has given us necessarily the lusts of other things. We must have something: we have left God, and do not suffice for ourselves. Hence lusts of other things come in, of the flesh and of the mind. But an immense complicated system has grown up through this, and Satan’s power—the world. Hence we need guidance and instruction through this, to know God’s will in the midst of it, the application of wisdom to details.
For the Christian, following Christ, being an imitator of God, is the grand point; but he also has to be “not as fools but as wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Christianity goes higher than Proverbs, for it deals with motives and gives divine ones; Proverbs experience, though of one judging according to the fear of God. Still such an experience is of great use. This wisdom, as we know, Solomon sought and obtained, and gives us his resulting experience in this book. We have several words used in connection with this: wisdom, a common Hebrew word, chokmah, meaning practised, experienced, skilful. The wise men of Babylon are so called and it is constantly used for wisdom which God gives in Daniel. We have again musahr, meaning instruction, warning, advice, used for chastisement too; Prov. 1:3; Job 5:17. We have also beenah, meaning discernment; Prov. 2:3. We have, as regards the simple one liable to be led by everybody, ormah, as in Prov. 1:4, prudence, used for cunning also, but cunning had by no means originally a bad sense, it meant knowing; as regards the young, knowledge. And mezimah, Prov. 2:11, discretion, being what we call up to things; and lastly, tachbuloth, Prov. 1:5, wise plans or counsels. The instruction is said to be in good conduct, righteousness, judgment, and uprightness. We have besides this, lekah, Prov. 1:5, the wise will increase or add doctrine, logos. But this is a matter of attainment: the wise will attain this, and counsels, and to interpret dark sayings and proverbs in which wisdom is shut up.
Such are the objects proposed in Proverbs, but not by man’s cunning, but by beginning with the fear of the Lord and so growing up in discernment. It is always needed to be “not as fools but as wise.” A true Christian may do something from want of discretion which may put him in difficulties all his life. No doubt there is carelessness in it; still he may be very sincere. But still Christianity seems to me to have a somewhat different character of wisdom—“simple concerning evil, wise concerning that which is good.” The Christian follows obediently Christ; and this is the path of wisdom where he has the light of life. He is so governed by motives, Christ being all to him, that his path is simple, his whole body is full of light, having no part dark. This is somewhat a different kind of wisdom, though it makes us wise in conduct. There is wisdom, but more simplicity, because governed more by motives, and following Christ.
I now turn to the unfolding of this wisdom in the early chapters of this book. The first object is to know wisdom and instruction. Such is the full and general object of the book; that is, the experience of a wise man, and a man corrected and disciplined, where he needs it, from will in any form: wisdom more as to what is without, instruction as to what is within, and, he adds, to discern things that differ, words of understanding— “perceive” and “understanding” have the same force—to get a discerning mind as to what passes before us, specially what is said. But the next passage enlarges the thought—gives the object and character of the teaching which this wisdom involves where it has to be taught. Wisdom, instruction, and discernment were the aim of Solomon’s proverbs; but what was its character when a person had to receive it? It was good or wise conduct, righteousness, judgment, and uprightness. You then have the simple and the young specially brought forward; and it was to make them intelligent and up to what was passing, what they had to do with, so as not to be misled. There was the giving the sum of wisdom and instruction, the means of receiving instruction, in conduct, righteousness, judgment, and uprightness—not merely a complete system, but ourselves learning the things that ought to be when needed; and lastly, the simple and young made intelligent and to know what they were about, capable of going through the world, undeceived by it.
The last point noticed here (which is an accessory to the rest, and more of intellectual enjoyment, though of a moral character, than the obligations of wisdom) is the capacity to enter into riddles and dark sayings, which clothe moral truth in a form that gives pungency and power to it, and hides it in forms which, when penetrated, give peculiar point to the relationship in which wisdom stands, give deeper and more interior apprehension of the truth on the one hand, and more vividness on the other. I take a very easy and familiar instance. The bramble said to the cedar in Lebanon, Give thy daughter to my son to wife; and there came by a wild beast in Lebanon and trod down the bramble. How much more that comes home than a precise statement that the king of Judah was feeble! Proverbs and dark sayings, riddles, parables, all come under this class. Spiritual apprehension is often needed to see their application.
This closes the preface: Solomon now enters on his subject. “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge” —not of wisdom, but of knowledge. A weighty sentence. All true knowledge, all moral knowledge begins by putting God in His own place. Nothing is right or true without that. For to leave Him out falsifies the position and relationship of all. I may know physical facts and what are called laws (that is, abstractions from uniform facts), but that is all, without it. Not that there are no instituted relationships, for there are, as parents, husband and wife, and others now man is fallen. But right and wrong refer to each in its place. And not only is the fear of God a motive, which maintains their authority in the heart, but, if I leave God out, what has instituted them and given them their authority is wanting. Each stone has its own place in the arch, but if the keystone be wanting, none can keep theirs.
Besides, the fear of God is the setting aside of will. How much that works in reference to constituted natural authority, or even mutual obligation, is evident. I cannot even know physical things fully without the fear of God; because causation necessarily comes in. How the fear of God, He being the Creator, affects that, is too evident to dwell upon. The chief theory of antiquity, almost universal (practically, we may say, universal), was, that there was and could be no creation.
The only modification, as far as I know, was the production, by an unknown monad of a good and an evil cause—the Bactrian and Persian faith, Zoroastrianism. Others got out of the difficulty by emanations. It was impossible for the supreme God, the monad, to have to say to matter: aeons with some, the Logos, demons, something like Zoroastrian Feroers, and the Logos, with Platonists, were resorted to by others to solve the difficulty for millions. The monad was alone, and while asleep nothing else was; if he woke, creatures appeared, but it was all Maya, illusion; when he went to sleep, they disappeared again. The true philosophy was to find it out, have done with creation, and be absorbed into universal spirit or into the one divine spirit. Modifications there might be; for hundreds of millions thought and think matter eternal, and that true philosophy, or true knowledge, is getting delivered from matter and gaining Nirwana, that is, being extinguished as a lamp goes out.
Is this knowledge? Spirit is far more real than matter. But God was not known nor feared—gods were, perhaps, consequently, but not God; and gods were temporary creatures, like men, and more so, and knowledge there was none. Deliverance was in knowledge—that all things were nothing. Some would make a Buddha above God, some absorb a man into God; all the rest perished or disappeared, for there was nothing really to perish. Is there nothing like this now, when there is not the fear of God?—nothing in the modern doctrine of development of species, which would tell us that all comes from a scarcely traceable worm which has left its mark upon some lower Silurian or Cambrian rock, or its analogous fellow in some more recent system, or a polypus, or a graptolith; the apparent ancestor of man being a penguin or an ape, for this is seriously the infidel system of some—opposed indeed, by others equally infidel, by some other speculation, in which definite and permanent species are recognised?
Is this knowledge? No. The reasoning on facts, even without God, even in that which is the legitimate sphere of experimental science, is only the leaving man to the wandering of his own mind, who never will, and never can, know creation without knowing a Creator; that is, without that faith which believes that the worlds were framed by the word of God, and that the things which are seen were not made of the things which do appear. When we turn to moral things and intellectual philosophy, it is evident there can be no knowledge without the fear of God; for then I enter on the sphere of relationships and obligations; and how can I be right, when I leave out the first and principal one? I cannot think of mind and find it sufficient for itself within itself. In point of fact, it has aspirations, and longings, and thoughts of a Being above us, power out of our reach, goodness, good and evil— of an end of our being, which is not apparent. If mind cannot suffice for itself, is it to turn to what is below it and exercise merely its powers? If above, what is God? what are my relationships with Him? where do they end, how begin? Will they end? I must know God to be at rest. God must have His place. Now putting God in His true place—that is the fear of God—is the true beginning of all knowledge. There is here a modification of this. It is the fear of Jehovah; that is, it was a known relationship which man had with God, and it is living in that relationship as so known, for example, putting Him in mind and conscience in His true place as in that revealed relationship. Inconsiderate persons, running wildly after their own will, despise wisdom and instruction, the experience and judgment of mature, experienced mind, or the warning and discipline which may apply to what is not such. But there is a subordinate principle to the fear of the Lord—subjection in these relationships in which He has established authority in the first instance and immediately over the movements of man’s nature: that is, the father and the mother. God has established this as the first and original bond of authority; will is in subjection, and honour, obligation, respect, come in. The parent is the source of the path of the child in contrast with his own will. It is not a law to meet and break his will (if he be not wilful), but to instruct, form, guide, but with authority; yet as honoured by the child and respected, as holding God’s place, and with affections which produce willingness instead of will; still it is authority. Here we have therefore instruction, guidance by warning, discipline, and even by chastisement (paidia; Heb. 12:5). So he is not to forsake the precepts and admonitions of his mother, those early influences which first bend the mind to good. This is a deeply important principle. It is not, like marriage, first instituted of all. It begins with authority, but authority in relationship of love, the source that forms and fashions as well as controls the character, the name that God takes in highest grace towards us; not a lawgiver, but an authority, but whose word is law, where it is a question between that and our own will.
This closes the positive side or development of good by which the Proverbs are introduced. The evil side is next considered. “My son, if sinners entice thee consent thou not.” Evil is in the world, deceit, and motives for sin. That which is first put forward here is the desire of wealth, and wrong and violence to obtain it. Corruption and violence are the two characters of sin and fruits of will in a fallen world. Here man is not treated as lost and sinful in his nature; he is under influences, he is of and in this world; he is in the world, but there is a way of wisdom in it. The first influences are supposed to be the true healthy ones of father and mother, and the fear of Jehovah. “Train up a child in the way that it should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is its language; and as we may every day see the young growing up and getting out of the influences and shelter of the home of their youth—as of the corrupt woman it is said, “the guide of her youth”—so they are looked at here. It is not the light of the gospel on man’s nature and state, but the path of man as brought up in this world—what is the way of wisdom in it. Hence, after the influence of father and mother, we read of sinners enticing. We are reading of influences for good and evil in the world in which we are; the way of wisdom and folly in it. And he begins with the son as under the healthful and divinely ordered influence of the father. Violence is first treated of, induced by the lust of prosperity in this world; but laying wait for blood thus is laying wait for one’s own soul. With this warning, and knowing this, the net is laid in the sight of the bird in vain. That is the effect of true instruction. This leads to the warning itself, the display of the net, for all to hear.
Wisdom speaks with the authority of God and aloud, “she uttereth her voice in the streets.” This is an important principle as regards the results of sin. We have seen the parental care of the young to preserve from evil, but in the ways of God there is another testimony—the public warning and call to sinners which wisdom sends forth amongst them. “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the street”—in the concourse of men, to the simple and to the scorner, the guilty yet misled ones, and the open and insulting adversary, and calls them to turn at her reproof, and proposes to bring forth to them, and lead them into, the full outpouring of the Spirit’s teaching and the words of God. It is not here pouring out the Holy Ghost on them: that is quite another thing; but the Spirit of wisdom was there for them, and the words of wisdom to teach and build them up. The expression is remarkable. You have the Spirit and the word, though the former, in the sense of its utterances of truth for blessing, poured forth to them. You have the Lord’s complaints in Luke 7, where yet wisdom in all her ways is justified of all her children. But it is in vain. Hence, when in the day of desolation and judgment, they will call, but there is no answer. They may fear the judgment, but there was no love, no submission to the truth; they will eat the fruit of their own ways. The ease and prosperity and carelessness they have been in, will be their ruin. The passage does not go beyond judgment (but God’s final judgment) in this world, and that there peace would be the portion of those who hearkened to wisdom. Nor be it further remarked, is there any reference to grace or its power in renewing or quickening. It is man in this world dealt with in his responsibility.
The next chapter takes us farther. It takes the ground of the son, the subject and obedient soul receiving the words of counsel, and hiding, keeping up within himself the commandments ministered to him, so that he inclines his ear to wisdom, and the heart applies itself to understanding. If more, if she is sought for as invaluable, and searched out as hid treasure, and avowedly and professedly sought after, the result is the apprehending the fear of Jehovah, and arriving at the knowledge of God. Here therefore it is not a call to men which we have, but the heart itself seeking for true wisdom as its portion and treasure, and thus the intelligence of relationship with Jehovah and the knowledge of God are obtained. “For Jehovah giveth widsom.” It is not merely that I by man’s understanding get wiser, but Jehovah gives true wisdom. It is what He has said, His word, which gives true knowledge and understanding, and he who seeks it will get it.
But there is more. He has laid up treasures of wisdom, His own counsels, for the righteous. And surely there are in His word treasures of wisdom and knowledge laid up for those who walk uprightly. Besides, He is their shield and protects them in their walk. He watches over His own way. It is a divinely-protected way: “the paths of judgment,” when men walk in God’s fear, are kept and protected by Him; and “He preserveth the way of his saints,” for God’s way and their way are the same, as Moses said, “Shew me now thy way,” and Jehovah was to go with him. This is a great blessing. It may be a wilderness, in which there is no way, but we have God’s way in it, and marked by His own presence. “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them.” His word is, Follow me. “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” And then as Moses saw that thus he would practically find grace in God’s sight; so here “then thou shalt understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity” [or rather, uprightness] “every good path.” Walking uprightly (v. 7) is consistently with, and in faith of, what we know of God. What is said of Abraham and of Israel? “Be thou perfect.” Here it is uprightness properly speaking. Walking in God’s path before Him, there is the spiritual and growing discernment of what is good and what is upright. This is the positive side, but there is besides this the way in which it guards from evil.
“When wisdom entereth into the heart,” when it forms thus the spirit and mind, and the desires are formed after it, so that it lives in what is good, and it finds this divine knowledge pleasant to the soul, it becomes a discretion which preserves from the evil which is around, and the snares laid for us, keeps watch over us, and discernment shall watch thee, “keep thee,” as one who watches and keeps (as was said before) the path. That from which they are kept is twofold here: the wickedness of men and corruption.
There is no question of going to join in violence to gain wealth, nor is that from which we should be kept the wrong done to us by evil men; but the wisdom and sense of what is right, which the fear of God leads to, keeps us from being led into the path of the wicked man. Wickedness is deceitful! We are apt to get hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We have need to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise— wise concerning that which is good. Restraint of heart which walks in the fear of God, lowliness (for it is the opposite of pride), is guided in judgment and sees God’s way in the seemingly bewildered concourse of men and circumstances. It has its own way, and has only to follow it; only it depends on God for it. It is the way of the evil man from which the soul is kept here (v. 12). The servants of Jehovah are supposed to have a path of uprightness, to a certain degree; so has natural conscience. The evil man has left it.
The other character of evil, from which the discretion of wisdom preserves us, is “the strange woman” (v. 16) the snares and attractions of corruption. These are the two forms of evil, wickedness, and even violence and wrong; that is, leaving the law and seeking to satisfy one’s lusts by violence and corruption. So even before the flood; so on to the last days, when the beast and the false prophet represent these two principles. “The strange woman” departed from both the principles we have seen: the fear of God according to the revelation He had given of Himself, and the ministration of care which gave authority over the early thoughts, and a place thereby in holy affections and subjection, “Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.” All are supposed here to have had to say to God in known relationship, and to be brought up in His ways—to be in the covenant of God’s people. Nature and grace, as I have said, are not contemplated, but the ways of a people under covenant and law. The ways of “the strange woman” are death. The language is stronger here than with robbers before, or wicked men just above; they are bad enough, but the way to “the strange woman “is the way of death. It is corrupting, destructive of heart as well as conscience. True affections disappear and are turned into lusts; self-will seeks full gratification where there is not affection at all, instead of another being an object whom we love and esteem, whatever the relationship. It is self in its lowest and most absolute form. All through into Babylon, its last form, “the strange woman” has the judgment of God against her, and the ruin of man written on her forehead for those who can read it.
The first two chapters of Proverbs complete, as a kind of preface, the exposition of the subject—the true wisdom which keeps from the different forms of evil in this world, from what sin has brought in. The last verses of the second chapter shew that it relates to God’s government in this world, and supposes relationship with God as Jehovah in Israel—it does not touch on a new nature. In the next two, though there are warnings, we learn more what wisdom is, its judgment on all around. We may first remark, that subjection and obedience first characterise the path of wisdom, and it is in a known relationship in which he is thus guided. “My son, forget not my law; and let thy heart keep my commandments,” chap. 3:1.
But, further; it is when the young man, once led as a child, goes out so as to have his own principles tried, and what governs himself inwardly brought to light. He still is obedient to what he has learned, and so far is in subjection; but it is now his own moral character, and he has to trust God inwardly, not be in the shelter of a paternal home and authority. Oh, how often we see departure here, and fair hopes and lovely blossoming of recipient youth turn to bitter fruits! It is a sad thought to see so many young, in whom the Lord could delight, turn to the way of their own will, and the ways of this corrupt world, fallen and degraded. It is against this these exhortations seek to guard the mind opening to its own responsibilities. Both what is right, and deference for those divinely established influences are to be maintained in the soul. And I may remark, however wrong example and the direction given to life may be, yet the wickedest of parents would desire his son to be virtuous; and deference to a parent will be a bright spot in the wildest of sons, and a hopeful influence.
But there is another point of great interest here before we enter on details—the perfect analogy of the language here with what is historically related of the Lord. “Let not grace and truth forsake thee,” it is said to the young men. Now “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” He was that, its perfection, which the young man was to seek to keep. It is added, “Thou shalt find favour and acceptance (esteem) with God and man.” So Christ “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”; and He was subject to Joseph and His mother. It is deeply interesting to find thus in Christ that which widsom is sketching out as the divine path of man on the earth. It is thus we shall find, whatever elements of good are scattered up and down in the world, all concentrated in Christ as a man in this world. It is not merely a theoretical doctrine, but to be traced by spiritual insight into the positive unfoldings of good and life in the word. But this is deeply interesting: so in Psalm 89:1, “I will sing of the mercies (chasidim) of Jehovah.” Then in verse 19, “Thou speakest in vision of thy Chesed.” He summed up this “mercy” or “grace” (the same as grace in our chapter) in His person. Luke gives us more the man agreeable to God; John that which came amongst men from God. So all through these gospels, though united in His Person. These four verses, therefore, comprise the character in which the divine influences of instructive care are to form the incipient path of responsible man. It is not law but character. And this is to be noted.
He now enters into details in verses 5 and following. Two paths are before man—to trust God, or himself and his own wisdom for his happiness. This is just what Eve failed in; she did not confide in God, trust in Him and what He had said, for her happiness, but leaned to her own understanding, thought she should better secure it by doing what she thought would be advantageous. So every sinner; he thinks he can better secure his own happiness in doing his own will than in listening to God. Trust in God is the first positive active principle of life and wisdom; the next is owning Him in our ways, taking His will, authority, as that which is to form them, not our will and wisdom, and that openly (v. 6). He will surely direct our steps. No human wisdom can guide like that. It may be very cunning—know human nature. But God has a way which He has laid down morally for us—a path of obedience, of- righteousness, and of God; and He who has done so orders all things. In the end His judgment will prevail. We may not see it prevail here—thus faith may be exercised; where His direct government is exercised, it will, but always in result. The end of the Lord is sure; heaviness may endure for a night, for a season if need be; but, for the faithful soul, joy cometh in the morning, a morning near to come. But self-confidence is ruin. “Be not wise in thine own eyes” (v. 7). They do not see far if they only see self, and that is what always is in our own eyes. The fear of God, as we have seen, the moral path of His fear, is that on which He waits in goodness, however things may seem—this, and departing from all evil. This is something more than walking in His fear—there is an abhorrence of evil, partly in itself partly as contrary to His will. I may walk in God’s fear, do no evil myself, without, I think, being characterised by departing from evil. No doubt, walking rightly is not doing evil. But evil is in the world, and there is, so to speak, a positive character of relationship to it, that is, departing from it, abhorrence of it. Adam, innocent, would have walked uprightly, done nothing wrong; he would not have departed from evil, he had nothing to say to it. I have or may have. I depart from it, leave and break with it. This has to do with holiness. We have seen Jehovah owned by confidence, and in His servant’s ways. It requires confidence in Him to guide one’s ways by His will. Now we come to another way of owning devotedness of heart, owning all positive good and blessing to come from Him, and manifested in the ready but due offering of a willing heart. Thus blessing is found, temporal blessing; v. 8-10. It must be remembered that we are always here on the ground of present government in the earth. Higher objects may bring sorrow as regards this world, as it has ever been. Now we can only apply the principle. Peter’s epistles give the degree in which this government applies to Christian standing.
We are ever directed thus to another form of this government—Jehovah chastens those He loves; v. 11. There is not only a government of the world for external blessing; but a direct personal government which occupies itself with the individual, a most gracious and precious truth. “He with-draweth not his eyes from the righteous.” God deals with us personally for our good— “that we may be partakers of his holiness,” for our profit. It is wonderful grace that He, the High and Holy One, should thus perpetually occupy Himself with us, leading us to the enjoyment of Himself. For He deals according to His own nature and in respect of all that is inconsistent in us with it. The word draws two conclusions from this truth that it is God’s love. It will not be without a cause in me; it will never be without love in God. Hence I am not to despise, for there is a cause in me which makes the Holy God of love act so; I am not to faint, for it is His love which does it. It is correcting a son in whom his Father delights. Anything that leads us to wisdom is indeed blessed— we may now say, to what Christ is. He is the wisdom of God, as He is the power of God. His word should dwell in us richly in all wisdom. This is really wisdom.
The inspired writer here speaks of it as known in detail by the Old Testament saints. He could not, of course, say they have the mind of Christ, but rays from it flowed down through inspiration, besides the law. That was binding surely. This is the Lord’s mind. Happy is the man who finds it, and his thoughts ordered according to understanding, that is, the communication of God’s mind, and not man’s will. In verses 14, 15, He compares her to earthly treasures, yet blessing even in this world accompanies it; but more than outward blessing: it is a path of quietness and peace of spirit, cheerfulness of heart, because there is nothing on the conscience, and the heart is able to enjoy; no unsatisfied desires, but free affections; no restless will, but the sense of divine favour. Through this communion with God, “she is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her.” The two words here used go farther than verse 13; there she was even as a sought treasure, here held fast as what the soul kept, valued, and was kept in. It is the abiding and purposed mind of the soul, as Barnabas exhorted them with purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord. It is not only, “I have suffered the loss of all things,” with the apostle, but “I do count them.” The knowledge of this wisdom (there fully, for it was Christ, and Christ in glory) had possessed him, the rest so as nothing. He held fast and retained it.
Note, this applies to an abiding character, as well as keeping it so as not finally to lose it. But that which is known in subjection in the creature is displayed in power in the ways of God. By wisdom He founded the earth; it was the thoughtful plan of ordered wisdom: in its place, the expression of His mind and will, of His thoughts, not the fruit, as our efforts may be, of a careless will, or, at any rate, one that does not know the end from the beginning, but the perfect ordering of One who did, and who ordered it for the purposes of His wisdom. And here it is Christ comes so fully in. For even this visible world was created for Him to be the heir of it, to be the heir of it moreover in the nature of one of His creatures (not the first and highest as a creature, but one for whom the earth was created, as its head, and he set as God’s image in it, yet proving himself a mere creature in the fall), to be heir of it moreover by redemption, in which all that God is should be displayed, though He went down to the lower parts of the earth in perfect subjection. “All things were created by him and for him.” The wisdom of God and the power of God are displayed in Christ. He is “the firstborn of every creature, for by him were all things created.” All centre in Him, as by Him all things were.
Now when we obey and walk in the mind and word of God, we are put in the path which this infinite and all-comprehending wisdom has arranged. No creature without a will gets out of it: will only departs from it. God does not reveal it as within the scope of our minds, because we should not be in our place in it. It is the simple reception of His word which gives our place and duty according to the perfect wisdom which has ordered and comprehends it all. Yet by the Holy Ghost there is in the gospel a communication of the mind and purpose of God. He has made known to us the mystery of His will: hence it is said, “Who hath been his counsellor? or, who hath known the mind of the Lord that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” “He of God is made unto us wisdom,” wisdom as to where we are, wisdom in making us know God, wisdom in making us fear Him and shewing the perfect path of subject wisdom in Christ, the purpose of wisdom in His glory, gathering all things into one, the image of the invisible God. And, more than all this, it is a wonderful thing to say, “we have the mind of Christ,” when Christ is the wisdom of God.
But this wisdom was shewn in the structure of natural creation (v. 19): only it is impossible to separate one part from His whole purpose. The highest part of it was in purpose before the world, is now out of it, and will be more completely fulfilled when this world is over: only this is the scene where it has been displayed—what the angels desire to look into. The church is the great sphere of its display, the central sphere where God dwells. But in creation the mightiest and the smallest things are alike the fruit of it. The earth itself, the mighty deep, and the breaking up of its fountains, and the small dew that refreshes the tender grass, all come from His hand, all are the fruit of His wisdom.
We have in the Lord here—wisdom, discernment, and knowledge (v. 19, 20). Then the young man (the son of wisdom) is to keep counsel, a new word (chap. 2:7), and prudence: the last we have had at the end of chapter 1:4. It shall be comeliness even in the eyes of others, as well as life inwardly, that is, the power and enjoyment of life in the soul. It shall make us walk safely and not stumble in the way; it is the daylight of which the Lord speaks, the path of God where God is (compare John 11:9, 10; Phil. 4:8, 9); and, when we he down, it shall be in felt safety and peace. This leads to another point—the way in which, so walking, confidence in the Lord is maintained in the heart. “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.” A stranger from God in this world, the power of evil is in the world; and fear accompanies, for the spirit of man, its unknown course, and the secret power that guides it. Walking in holy subjection before God, which is our wisdom, we can confide in Him, who is over all, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground. It is not that we know what is coming, but that we know that the Lord is there, who rules and orders all. Nothing happens for us: God’s hand is in everything; and we confide in Him. Indeed everything will work together for good. At any rate, we confide in Him.
But wisdom is generous and considerate (for selfishness is destroyed), and it acts in simplicity and unaffectedness, for this is always the effect of the presence of God on the soul. It is ready to give, and does not pretend willingness when it can give and does not (v. 28). Simphcity is a great trait of walking in the presence of God. There is no seeking, moreover, to exercise a power which gives or shews superiority; no spirit of mischief or wrong, nor jealousy of others are in that position; the spirit of peace and quietness is in the heart of him who walks with God. He is happy in himself, and is not restlessly striving for it in this world. A wrong way may exalt a man in a world of evil. It is not the way of peace. It cannot be approved of the Lord. I may not see the issue of it (God has revealed it to us in Christ; the day of Jehovah of hosts is on everything that is high and lifted up), but I do know it is not the path of a soul subject to God, where peace is; and the desires that awaken it are checked by His presence and true wisdom of heart which looks to Him. Scorn from Him shall be the portion of those that scorn; they shall be ashamed of their portion and of their pretensions, of that folly which did not make its account of God. But grace, present favour from His hand, is the portion of the lowly; and the wise, when He exerciseth strength, shall inherit glory. Chapter 4. We have now especially the source of instruction, and while kept as knowing from whom it has been learned (though here it is natural care, but according to divine order as to Abraham, seeing “he will command his children and his household after him … that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him”), the Proverbs are on this ground adding the responsibility of the hearer and the resulting judgment of God. The affections of the parental teacher were fully known as response looked for in the obedience of the child. It is not law, but wisdom and wisdom’s commandments, good doctrine, understanding. There is responsibility, commandment, and counsel; divine wisdom as to our path, followed in obedience, but not law. It is divine knowledge in the midst of evil (which the law is not, but forbids all evil). It is Abrahamic, not Mosaic, though a child of Abraham would keep the law if under it. This is important to remark. The law is in every sense by the bye, though a perfect rule for man in flesh. God founded the earth by wisdom, not by law. It is a far larger thing—the whole mind of God—for us learned in subjection in the subjective relationship of nature, which God uses as a means. It was as so taught to be retained in the heart; it was to be discovered, attained: this could not be said of law. There was nothing to discover. They were then neither to forget nor decline from it; v. 5.
We have something more than the affection of the heart for that which is come from God, and in this way of affectionate instruction; that is, keeping the words of this instruction, retaining the commandments of parental wisdom, and living. There is something very striking in the likeness of the language here to the language of Christ in the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount is just the sayings of wisdom that are to be kept. So the Lord says, “He that keepeth my sayings shall never see death.” “If my words abide in you,” says Christ. “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings.” “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” There is more than that in Christ; but He takes the place of wisdom in all He says. There was a person and source of grace, One in whom in subjection these words were filled, and whose words when He spake were the absolute expression of what He was. Still the analogy between the language of Proverbs and Christ’s words is striking. He walked in the daylight of God’s will—in the day and did not stumble. So here he who follows wisdom will not stumble. Hence “wisdom is the principal thing.” It is really “life,” the path of life. Power as displayed in bringing in right in the world is not come yet—it will. Our path now is wisdom, the mind of God good, in the midst of evil—not that which puts evil away (that, as to the state of things, is Christ when He shall appear)—the will of God good, in the midst of a world departed from Him; subjection and the consciousness that it is not by the coming in of displayed power, but the walking, in spite of evil, in His paths.
Then, as I have remarked, it is not the child kept authoritatively in the paths of good, but the pressing in love that, in his own heart as a responsible person, he should cleave to the good he had learned—take this wisdom as an object of his own heart and delight, exalt it, cleave to it. It is the way of life, grace, and glory. Two things flow from it: no straitening of the ways, no stumbling of the feet; v. 12. Some seem in haste to go forward necessarily. Because wisdom is light and guidance, we shall not be straitened—and in perplexity in our path, not knowing which way to go, because wisdom, God’s discerned will and mind, tells us. There is a voice behind us saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” And our goings are held up in God’s ways. For in the path of divine wisdom there is nothing to stumble over.
This is a great mercy. The heart is at large in walking, and the feet safe in the way. We must bear in mind that the rejection of Christ has in an external sense modified this, though the fire was indeed before already kindled. It is, as regards the flesh, for man’s natural heart, a strait gate and a narrow way. The spirit is at large and free in it, truly and wholly so; but when the will and human passions are at work, it is strait and narrow. Hence for man’s heart, as such it is represented. We should need no way, were evil not here. Adam had no need of a way. In heaven we shall have no need of one, but through the world and wilderness we have one. And there is but one—the way of wisdom, Christ, the heart guided of God Himself in the conduct that flows from Him and suits Him in a world of evil, of which path of wisdom Christ is the perfect expression in His own Person; and with this is God’s government (not yet outwardly displayed), so that it leads only to the cross, yet has His blessing, He making everything work together for good to those that love Him, and if it does bring the cross, giving a heavenly crown as the blessed result. All this is clearer for us now, of course; still in substance the way of wisdom was ever the same. It was always the path of life, a divinely marked way since evil came into the world.
From verse 14 we have the contrast. There is a positive path of wickedness, of self-will that seeks this world. Into that he fears that God is not to enter at all. It too is a marked way. The way is depicted in its full fruits, but it is the way of man’s will. It is the way of hatred. They love to make others fall. It is a dreadful thing. But it is the sign of power, and malice is in the heart. The mischief inflicted on others is a sign of their comparative powerlessness. But the path of the just has fruit, leads on to something beyond, of which it is the way. There is no fruit in the ways of the wicked, but present gratification in wickedness. It is a departure from the place of peace and blessing, from God, and then self-will gratifying itself. It ends in death, but it is the way, not the end, which is judged here.
But there is a way which comes from God, a spirit and mind from Him, in which the just walks in the midst of evil, though here viewed practically and as from without. And though we have it here as guidance in the midst of darkness, and it is simple obedience of heart to God’s directions, in the abnegation of will, yet it is of God and leads on to Him, to the perfect day. It is His path, though for a man (hence perfect in Christ all the way), and clothed as to circumstances in the path of this world, yet His way in it; and it issues in what it is in itself, and in its source, the perfect day. It is a beautiful image, for the dawn is from and in itself perfect light; but it is, so to speak, making its way through the darkness, but it issues in perfect day. So this path, coming from God—and in which man owns his relationship to God and all to whom God has placed him in relationship, according to His will and in subjection—issues in the full light of the relationship itself. In Christ we have the perfect expression of it: come from God, walking as man perfectly according to God in the midst of evil, He ends in glory as man; Himself indeed light all along the way, and forming the path of wisdom in the world. He that follows Him does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life. Christ Himself contrasts the way of the wicked with that of wisdom in the language almost of this passage. “Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth,” John 12:35. This as regards others, believing in Himself: as regards His own path, doing the will of His Father, see chapter 11:9, 10. And note in this last passage, He looks for “light in him”: it is not in the wicked, and the world is always in darkness; so is it not with him that has Christ— God in man, as light, as the wisdom of man in this world, the light of life.
The rest of the chapter (v. 20-27) is urgent exhortation. The ear must be attentive, the eye fixed on God’s words; in the midst of the heart, the centre and spring of walk, they must ever be kept. And this is indeed what is needed, as indeed it is urged: “keep thy heart with diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” All goes well if that source of thought and object is filled with the word of God. Christ’s words must abide in us, the heart’s affections be formed in and by them, and we shall find the truth in good as in evil of the saying, Mine eye affecteth my heart; Lam. 3:51. There is power in the word and revealed wisdom of God for the renewed man (not to speak of its being the instrument by which we are begotten of God) to lay hold on heart and conscience, and to fix the mind of the inner man with formative power. It produces good in us; we live by it, we are changed into the image of what we contemplate. “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.” “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” It is the way of life, and health, and freeness of heart to the whole man.
But we have to deal with evil (here the ways of evil, for the Old Testament does not deal with old and new man, that supposes knowledge of Christ) in ourselves. “A froward mouth and perverse lips” are to be put away. He that governs his tongue, the same is a perfect man, able also to govern his whole body. It is the first index of the will and passion of man unsubdued, or of his having perfect rule over himself. This we must put away, not only following evil. Compare Col. 3.
Next, singleness of eye as to the object we pursue. If the path is strait, it is also straight, and, looking right on, there is energy in following. “This one thing I do”—consequent purity of affection; we are morally what we love and think of as an object. It is our mind. See Romans 8:7, 27. There is not a distraction nor a setting of the mind on vanity (and so a shutting out of what is holy and good, and a coming in of what is beside Christ) but God is obscured, His love and light hidden, if not doubted of, communion gone, the free peace of a holy heart. The power of evil is felt: it lies at the heart— not so easy to get it out, though grace does it. It is not faith which is at work—the new man in the things which belong to it, but the conscience making us feel we have wronged the love and favour we enjoy.
But, further, we have to “ponder the path” of our feet. A careless imprudent walk is not the fear of God. It is carelessness about God who has given us a path of wisdom in which our steps can go. Compare Psalm 17:5, the same word. “And let all thy ways be established.” It is exhortation, but (I think) exhortation to secure the fruit of the first part of the verse. We are not driven about by influences or distractions. There is firmness in our path, because it is a known one. It is not blown about by winds of doctrine, or counsels taken not as wisdom, but because we do not know what to do—the influence of the world. There is firmness of purpose. God’s mind and God’s will command the judgment, the heart, and the ways. There is not counsel with flesh and blood. It is the simple settled intention of doing God’s will as a delight and obligation both. It is then pondered before God to find His will in the particular case, and the feet guided. But it is a settled thing with the heart to walk in God’s way. It may have to ponder and seek from Him what it is; but as it only seeks that, it waits till that is discovered, and then all is clear. There is no uncertainty of purpose, nor distraction of will or motive, where God’s will is discovered. There is one straight path, nor is there then any turning to the right or the left. It is sufficient that God’s will has been found.
Chapter 5 takes up the question of purity in our ways, as that of violence had been already spoken of. We have divinely ordered relationships and affections, instead of lusts and self-gratification in sin. How great the difference! Nothing degrades the heart and understanding like corrupt lusts. No doubt violence is bad enough; yet it does not degrade within, does not pollute and destroy the spring of affections, but corrupt lusts do. That which would have been affection for another becomes corrupt heartlessness.
Two things are looked for from the heart of the young man, attention and subjection. Wisdom and discernment are in him who teaches, the father, who has a divinely given place of authority and intelligence in his claim, clothed in affection, over the heart and ears of the child. It is not commandment, as of an infant, but, as we saw at the beginning, the divinely ordered but acquired influence of the parent over the moral affections of the son. It is authority, but authority in counsel: “Attend unto my wisdom,” and be subject to my discernment, that is, of what is right. The effect (v. 2) is preserving moral acuteness, being of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord (not “regard “but “keep”)—this quickness of moral perception. The lips are the expression of the heart, its index. The heart would be in such order, and the will so subdued, that what came from the mouth would be the expression of knowledge. It is saying much.
The character of the woman is here (v. 3) “a strange woman.” “Strange” is a word a good deal used and important. All gods not Jehovah are strange gods; fire not from the altar was strange fire. It is that which does not belong to us, not in the divinely given relationship in which we are, or the thing spoken of stands. Any but Jehovah was a stranger; any but the consecrated fire was strange; any but the shepherd even was a stranger. God made them male and female, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” the utmost intimacy of relationship as belonging to him: the expression of that was right. This was mere corrupt lust; the woman, a stranger to this divinely formed relationship. It spent the nature and heart, and ended in death. The heart, allured by evil, is turned into another channel, from pondering “the path of life,” following the path of lust to death. What is right is not weighed in the soul. The special warning (v. 8) is withdrawal, not coming near the door of her house; living away in another scene of thought and being where will does not go in the path of lust, nor lust have occasion to seize hold of the will. Disaster and ruin follow in that path; but on that I need not insist. It is a giving up of self and self-government to fruitless sin. Hence what he recalls when ruined is not that he had not followed in a right way, but that will had been at work and warning despised. He had hated being set right, the exercise of moral discipline and just chastening, what arrested his will morally or even externally. There was the will which did not like to be checked, and the pride of heart which slighted corrective warnings. There was no obedience (he did not listen); no inclining the ear to that influence morally above us, which we have seen spoken of. It is to be noticed how this letting loose of the will and refusal to listen led or let loose to all iniquity and evil. The evil too, as it was reckless, was shameless. He was all but in every evil, in the midst of the congregation and assembly; v. 14. He was almost as bad as Zimri, the son of Salu. But what takes away the heart takes away shame, and puts the effrontery of evil into the will.
The verses which follow (v. 15, etc.) look at corruption in another character—the breach of, the relationship divinely formed. What preceded has judged the will, let loose in corruption, and shewn its debasing influence, and how it cast out all good in the heart and made selfishness the rule of life. Here it is another aspect of good and evil. The father insists on the close maintenance of the relationship itself as contrasted with the breach of it. God has formed it as a bond and centre of affections. And even in human affections it is a great thing to have a centre, so that the heart is united in itself there; and it is affection in righteousness according to God’s mind, so as that conscience does not war against the heart and make it evil and will, but God’s authority and creative will puts its sanction on it, so that His blessing can be enjoyed in it. Every way due and right affection is thus in the heart. We may go out in expansive kindness to objects outside of it—all right; but here affections are centred; and there is a bond; and duty puts its seal on it. But if the heart thus has its centre in a help-meet for it, where it was not good according to creation to be alone, man was formed to be a centre; and this was through his children. He multiplies himself. With illegitimate love this evidently cannot be; but living in his family (the first circle of divine order, formed by God Himself in paradise), drinking waters out of his own cistern—the concentration of affection by which it is his own, his fountains are dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. That is, he is fully represented by his children, and has his importance everywhere through them. He is dispersed abroad in them. But there is unity in the whole family thus. His fountain is his own; that is, the whole family circle in its source. Fountain is so used in the Hebrew scriptures, as “the fountain of Jacob.”
But there is more than lust, and due affections, and the healthfulness of divine order in man as formed by God. Man walks in God’s sight (v. 21): He is the avenger of all breaches and wrong in that order. But we may remark here that the reference is to the government of God. God observes it; and he reaps the consequence. It is something of Elihu’s statement in Job. His own sins bring him into sorrow and misery; he eats the fruit of his ways. God is not mocked. What man sows he reaps; and this remains. It is not doubtless directly applied, as in God’s government in Israel. Still God orders all things; and though the world, as Job justly reasoned, was not an adequate witness of His judgment of good and evil, yet He has so ordered things that sin bears its fruits: man sows to the flesh and reaps corruption. But, further, he is deprived of all intelligence of the ways of God, and following this, dies in darkness. And his life is a life of error. He shall go on from one folly to another,2 repeating and multiplying his departure from the one way of divine wisdom. There is one thing, I think, very striking—how much more, when wisdom is occupied with the government of this world, or governing a man’s ways in it, it has to dwell on evil than on good. It is a sad thought, but so it is.
Chapter 6. Two great principles of life are stated in the beginning of this chapter: not to engage oneself for the future; and not to be lazy and indolent for the present. God has set us in this place, humble diligence as a duty now— His ordinance since the fall. “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.” “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” On the other hand, engaging for the future is that, the result of which no man can command. The contrary of peaceful labour for one’s need is the violence and rapine already spoken of and condemned as one of the two great characters of sin, at least as towards men. The other is, besides wrong, defrauding a brother in the tenderest point, sinning against oneself in corruption and lust, “his own body,” as Paul speaks: all surely evil withal in God’s sight.
If a man has engaged himself, he is not to slight of course his engagement, but to take it as a present obligation; but if he would be free, go and get the person3 he is pledged for to discharge it at once. Otherwise we are in a way we cannot control in the hands of others, so as not to be free to serve God’s will, and perhaps to meet an unknown result though under obligation to do so. Christians will find this rule of immense importance for the quiet and peacefulness of their lives, and the violation of it sorrow and trouble of heart. Indolence and laziness carry their own judgment with them, as every one has seen; “poverty will come as one that travelleth.”
It is remarkable to see the Spirit of God so graciously descend to these details, in the way of practical wisdom, and the results that flow from conduct in this world, but on which so much depends of the peacefulness of the spirit in our path. These are warnings as to oneself.
What follows (v. 12) describes the perverseness of the wicked man, the man of Belial, the man who is void of God in his mind and consequently follows vanity. In every moment he is at mischief: his eyes, his feet, his fingers, all seem to carry on mischief. Perverseness is in his heart: so it works through all that he can signify anything with; he devises mischief continually, causing discord amongst others—a sad picture. But we cannot but feel how we are occupied with evil here, for we are in an evil world, and our path is through it. Only I have to learn it thus in the word by faith, and not in the practice of it, or by familiarity with the practice of it in the world. But judgment comes on such. He is unexpectedly destroyed without remedy. He has been occupied with evil; there remains but judgment. “Judgment” here is the instruction of Proverbs; and surely, though there is not a direct government by it, so it is continually in the world even now. The character of the man of Belial and vanity is then described in the traits which the Lord hates.
Chapter 7. In this seventh chapter we have another aspect of wisdom’s ways. It is not open wickedness in which the will is active against which it directs its remonstrances; it speaks of the snares laid for those who have no intention to do evil, but whose lusts and passions lay them open to those snares. Hence the soul is called upon to be previously diligently filled with the precepts and counsels of wisdom, that it may be in no way taken in them.
This is a very important point. It is not sufficient (how often has the Christian found it!) not to have any intention to do evil, nor even to have the intention to do right. We are in a world of snares and temptations. We have to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation—to have the soul filled with the divine things of wisdom, and the thoughts of wisdom guiding the mind and the path, so that the allurements of evil and Satan’s wiles take no hold upon us. The mind lives in another sphere. It is indeed another nature to which evil is offensive, and which detects it in the allurement itself, and deals with that as evil, instead of being attracted by it. The precepts and light of divine wisdom fill and guide the thoughts; and evil is evil—is contrary to the state of the soul, walking in lowliness and obedience, not as fools but as wise, simple concerning evil indeed, but wise concerning that which is good. The words of counsel, implying, as we have seen, obedience and subjection of heart, are to be kept, and the commandments of a father laid up. And they are to be kept as well as laid up, and treasured, delighted in, kept before one’s mind on the fingers, and tables of the heart, and confessed and owned as that with which we are of kin, to keep us from the flatteries and allurements of sin.
The young man void of understanding went—notes the way of her house. It was not a deliberate purpose, as verse 21 shews; but the path of wisdom and her precepts would never have led him there—would have led and kept him elsewhere. He followed at least the idleness of his heart. This is a solemn warning. Nor is there light on this path. He was not walking in that light in which a man does not stumble. Nor is the conscience ever really good there. It is not an actually bad conscience, but a good conscience is always in the presence of God. “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.” Here there were passions ready to be ensnared, without a safeguard; and a conscience which darkness suited better than light, which was not walking in the light; idleness of will which had shame, in a measure, of its own ways. It was not a path in the broad daylight of God. And, oh, how great a thing it is, and how blessed a thing! Look at the path of Jesus: where was that? We have greatly to seek this.
But now we have the boldness of a hardened conscience—a terrible thing. A defiled one with a broken heart Christ can meet; but a bold one is a shocking thing. There is no home to such a heart. But the idleness of passion is no safeguard against its ways. It can flatter, awaken lust, be ready to minister to it to win to its ways. It reckons on fear in the unhardened, though it has none. It has its means, however false, of guarding against it; for vice is a mean thing, even if hardened. There was no “good man “at all. It was naked vice; but stolen waters are sweet, though sin fills with fear. And the idle soul is caught in snares its will did not seek; but it was none the less the path of death. Nor is it the only snare the idle soul may meet. The soul that does not watch and pray (that is not filled with wisdom’s ways and wisdom’s thoughts, kept by God’s presence) will meet temptation somewhere. Still, here it is the snare of the strange woman. Her house is the way to hell. She has cast down many wounded, and strong men are all her slain. It is not human strength that resists temptation and passion; and such temptation has been the ruin of many who in this world were mighty, and even morally mighty. They have fallen under the snare, and were ruined; those who otherwise boast themselves have through this been weakness, and brought to ruin. The wise man presses it on him who had ears to hear.
Hebrew scholars make here in verse 26, a word which usually means “strong” to mean “numerous.” I confess I do not see why, nor how, it can be sound with “all.” “Many wounded has she made to fall, and strong ones are all her slain.” I do not see the sense of “numerous are all her slain”; but that strength is of no avail against the snare—figuratively to shew the danger, and how powerful the snare is. To say that all her slain were strong ones is every way to the purpose. However this I must leave to abler Hebraists than myself. Only the Hebrew word is everywhere else used for mighty, or strong. The Authorised Version gives “strong,” but turns “all” into “many.” I confess, “strong ones are all her slain” is much more to the moral purpose of the sentence than anything else.
Chapter 8. Wisdom is not in this world simplicity, but leads us into it. Simplicity is the blessed result in the highest way, when God is all to the new nature. But God is wise in His ways in ordering all things; and we are now in a scene of evil, and a complication of received good and actual evil in will and fact, which needs for him who would go aright a path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen. In truth there is none in the world in itself. Where all is morally wrong and departed from God, there can be no right path. Adam did not want a path. As to him he had only to stay where he was. When we have gone wrong, and are driven out by God, and so need a path, none can be found. There is none. But God deals with this scene—now with man in it, hereafter with the scene itself—and has a path and result which was before the worlds, and which wisdom points out to us, calling men into it. Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the path of understanding? It is not to be found in the land of the living. “Destruction and death say we have heard the fame thereof with our ears.” So they have. They tell us the vanity of all the scene we are in, and, above all, of man at the head of it, the sorest place of all. But it is only negative. This is an immense truth, that there is no way for living man fallen from God. This is what is described in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Man under the sun, his will works. What can his will, multiplied in the contentions of many, do? “But God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof.” He ordered creation, but “to man he said, The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” This, as Ecclesiastes says, is the whole of man; chap. 12:13. That book does not go farther, and it is a deep and immense instruction to get this by itself—the position and condition of man as such ascertained, bringing God and responsibility to him, without reaching Him, but looking at man as he is here, and without revelation, but knowing good and evil, accompanied by the declaration of judgment.
Proverbs takes a wider sphere, because it is occupied with wisdom, not with man simply as he is. Hence we have always God in Ecclesiastes (save the fear of Jehovah at the end), Jehovah in Proverbs. The sphere we live in is one of a perverse will in man, who will not have God, but a knowledge of right and wrong in himself, of the difference of right and wrong, in a scene where nature retains abundant marks of a wise and good Creator, of almighty power, yet in this its lower part in a state of ruin and corruption, away from God, and in what man knows to be corruption about Him too; so that, when he has not revelation, that is, the word, he is fain, in hopeless subjection to what is false, to rear his altar to an unknown God. Such instinctive knowledge there must be as makes him feel that he knows nothing of Him—a sad condition for a responsible soul.
Wisdom, the word of God, comes into this scene, shews what it is, reveals God in it, the way of truth; but that word shews it existing in God before the world was. It looks back to creative wisdom, but to a purpose then set up which will be fulfilled; but it deals with what it meets with, and shews with divine light what is the scene and state of things of which I have spoken. Its utterances are the truth, and reveal withal the counsels of God. Christ was, and of course is, this wisdom, but He is more, for He reveals God Himself; and then comes in necessarily another thing—grace and truth come by Jesus Christ. This last we have not here. It was foretold and prophesied of, but could not be till the Lord Himself came, and effectually for us only when redemption was accomplished, and He had glorified God. Compare Titus 1:1-3; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10. But we have the general truth of the activity of God’s testimony, which, after all, is grace, His dealing with the consciences of men, and wisdom in the creation; and in a general way, that His thoughts and purposes of divine delight rested in the sons of men—accomplished so perfectly in Christ’s incarnation, proclaimed so blessedly in the angels’ song, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good pleasure in men”; but here, too, wondrously set forth, shewing the dealing in truth by wisdom with men, and the unspeakable testimony of where His delight was before the world was—wisdom having its delight where God’s delight in eternity was. Its dehght was in the sons of men. Now we say, “Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.”
But the revelation of wisdom and its exercise is in the midst of an evil world. What wisdom has to say she would not have to say if the world were not evil; yet it is a strange thing, and must be wisdom to speak God’s truth in such a world. And such it is. We read in Ephesians, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” “Redeeming the time” means seizing opportunities, as Daniel 2:8 (margin), which I note because it shews the world to be evil, and, though under God’s hand, still evil to be in power. And then wisdom has to cry. It reveals surely, too, all the counsels of God in Christ, blessing beyond the evil. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” wisdom ordained before the world to our glory; but even this is brought about as to the wisdom of the way by the coming of evil and redemption. It is divine wisdom bringing good out of the evil in accomplishing His counsels towards us. Sin, weakness, guilt was our state, but through redemption issuing in glory, according to the display of God in that redemption, whose love, mercy, righteousness, supremacy over evil have been glorified in the work of Christ, and we in righteousness brought into that glory; that as sin appeared sin, working unto death by that which was good, the perfect law of right for man, so God might appear God by the display of all that He is, in bringing us to glory through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we have it in its elements. We have seen it hitherto as the order of subordinate authority and parental care, the maintenance of paternal order. Here we have something more. The world is evil, and wisdom cries aloud in testimony in the midst of the world as it is, though revealing the grace that accompanies wisdom.
“Wisdom crieth, and understanding putteth forth her voice.” Wisdom I take to be the gathering up all that experience can give, so as to judge of all things by it, only that in God it is intrinsic knowledge of all things, and all their relations and state. This He furnishes to us as far as we are capable of it as creatures in His word. Every word of wisdom is perfect as to that to which it applies. It comes from a perfect divine knowledge of all, and our path in it, as God sees it. It applies to what we are in, but it comes from God, who knows His own mind, in what we are in, and about it, and that He gives—only we know in part. As having received it now, we have it all ours. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” We cannot instruct the Lord, we are told, but we “have the mind of Christ.” As addressed to us, it is the perfect light of God on that of which it speaks to us. The world is in confusion and evil. Grace makes God cry to us in that day. It was present in Christ. Compare Isaiah 50.
Understanding puts forth her voice, as wisdom comprehended all, and brought divine light to bear on it. Understanding discovered all. Verses 2 and 3 shew remarkable the character of this testimony. She meets man where he is, lifts up her voice above the roar and confusion of man’s restless activities in this world, meets him in the throng, and puts herself forward in the highway of passage to bring in the light of God, and His claim on man for his good. She summons man’s ear to hear, and think of something besides the urging of his own will and the turbid stream of his passions and earthly hopes. “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of man.” So Christ, the life, was the light of man. Christ, though He did not lift up His voice in the streets, but only to be so much the more heard of all that had ears to hear, yet sent it on the house-tops by His apostles, Himself the perfect subject and wisdom’s self, rather than the proclaimer of it, yet sowed the word—Christ, I say, was this wisdom displayed in subjective perfection in this world. Every word He uttered was a part of it, and the right part when He uttered it. How He discovered all I need not say. He did not learn wisdom partially by experience, as that which He had not (though as true man He grew in it), but was that which experience is to learn. Sorrows He learnt for us, difficulties, opposition; but He was wisdom in the midst of it. However, God in active grace brings this to bear on the consciences and hearts of men— says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The word was proclaimed, on “the top of high places,” in the view of men, in the thronged resorts of man, and where every one must enter that belonged to a human dwelling-place or home. And her address was to men. God’s word and wisdom are formed for and expressed to them. When it was there in life, “the life was the light of men”—theirs in divine counsels, and adapted to their condition.
It came to bring the truth, not to find it. It came to the “simple” and “fools”; it brought light and understanding to the simple—the hearing ear, through grace; it brought to the simplest and most foolish divine wisdom for themselves— a light and guide in all the circumstances they were in. They were excellent things, for they came from God, and revealed Him, and they were right things—put everything in its true moral place with God, and with God’s authority. For wisdom’s mouth speaks according to the real nature and state of things (v. 7), and that as to their relationship with God—tells the truth of everything, and is equally abhorrent from all evil itself. This is the great controversy with man’s pretensions. He has his own mind the centre of all the confusion, leaving out God, and pretending to judge by it the scene of confusion he is in—yea, even to judge God Himself, and what He ought to be. Wisdom is bringing, in applicable detail, the light of God and His authority in it, into the scene of confusion, which is so as departed from Him. The will of man-will not have it; his passions and lusts are dearer to him.
But there is another character of divine wisdom; it is straight and simple (v. 8, 9), because it is profound and perfect. It is itself—itself in the midst of confusion and complication, but always itself. Human subtlety and wisdom must take the tortuous course which seeks to avoid the evil which it belongs to and lives amongst, of which it forms a part, though it may be a cleverer part; but it must act by the motives and passions which govern man, because it has nothing else to act upon, nor by. It cannot be above the sphere to which it belongs, though it may see a little farther into it than the simple and foolish; but it cannot see beyond present motives —they are its motives. Divine truth and wisdom brings in God, and what is right, with authority—is it in testimony, or in fact, if we take it as embodied in Christ. Hence it is always itself, for it is what comes into the scene, not what is of it, though light in and adapted to it, and (acting on conscience, that is) is light to the sense of right and wrong by bringing in God, the fear of the Lord, and hence gives a perfect path. The words are in righteousness, and in righteousness for and in the midst of the scene of will and confusion sin has brought in.
I take the most common-place outward example: “Thou shalt not steal.” In paradise there was no stealing. In heaven there will be none. In a perfect state such a thought could not exist. Yet property and rights of property have introduced confusion and ill-will and oppression on one side, and wrong on the other—in all ages a problem that no man can solve, and that there is no right to be found in. One form is oppression, another ruin and disorder. Wisdom is content with what it has, and covets no man’s; it has the key to a perfect path of its own in the midst of the confusion, because of introducing God and His fear. It takes the heart of man out of all the motives which produce the confusion that exists, and gives it its own path in the midst of it. This is the most commonplace case, which I take on purpose.
Hence the Lord declines decision (He came not then to judge) in a case of alleged wrong (Luke 12:14), and continues, “Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth”; and then exalts man’s thoughts above such objects even as man, and brings in God as known goodness to those who had faith in Him; and this goes on to the highest display of the life of Christ in us. It was the law’s place to mark this path in fact for man, not to reveal counsels or redemption or the display of God in man, but the path of man before God. So far it was wisdom, but it could not display God in counsels or in love connected with them, or it would not have been a law for man. Now we learn not man before God, but in Christ God before man, our rule of life, though this will surely not violate the other— “against such there is no law.” Thus there is nothing tortuous (“forward”) nor twisted (v. 8), winding through the evil ways and corrupt motives of men to find an advantageous path through them.4
Hence he who walks by divine wisdom is counted a fool— told he will be a prey to the world; for the world after all reckons on evil and looks to its subtlety as its resource, to knowing more evil and plans to circumvent it. But obedience to the word is divine wisdom; for divine wisdom, that knows all things, has formed the path. We have to walk according to that lovely and divine precept that grace only could give us— “Simple concerning evil,” and “wise unto that which is good.” Hence to him that understands—has an ear and capacity to receive what is divine, “they are all plain.” They are God’s path, declared by Him, what leads in a straight and blessed path which is its own—that in which Christ walked. He that finds knowledge discerns that they are upright, “right” in themselves—the divine mind in us, we can say.
Now the new man discerns the uprightness of this path. As the Lord says, “Wisdom is justified of all her children,” though the world see not or hate it. “Plain” is that which is straight before us. “Let their eyes look right on”; compare chapter 4:25, where the word “right on” is the same as “plain” here (Prov. 8:9), and “straight” the same as “right” here. It is all simple to him that takes divine light for his guidance, in thankful submission to Him who gave it. The path of Christ is the perfect expression of it: He is the wisdom of God. In value surely nothing can be compared with it—to have God’s way, and that a right one, through a world of evil. But, in a world like this, there is need of not being fools but wise. And wisdom sees everything in divine light, and detects at once its character. It is of the profoundest subtlety in this way. It has the discernment of God. A scene of satanic deceit is perplexing to the mind perhaps. What is it? The entrance of it is contrary to the fear of the Lord; the whole thing is judged, though I cannot account for the hundredth part of it. The soul, not guided by the fear of the Lord, plunges into a scene beyond its powers, and is the sport of Satan. The fear of the Lord and the Spirit of truth, for the simplest mind, has preserved from and judged it all. But it is really the subtlest judgment which the humanly wise are taken in. “I wisdom dwell with prudence” —the reflective judgment, which the fear of God calls for and produces as seeking always His will, giving a discernment which judges of the true character of everything. It is subtle, dwells with it, is found where this is. It is strange to put plain (v. 9), and prudence (v. 12), together; but it is just what divine wisdom does. In the “witty inventions “it is the cogitations of the heart which find out these witty inventions. When fully developed in us we read, “The spiritual man discerneth all things, and he himself is discerned of no man.” He judges all around him, and whatever he has to walk in; but his motives, principles, and aims the natural man discerns not; his path baffles the cleverness of him who has not the Spirit. (See Rabshakeh’s interview with the servants of Hezekiah.) He is sure of his way, or motives, and principles: unknown to the unspiritual man, his way is a riddle to him. The result proves its wisdom to the world. His “witty inventions” (well-considered thoughts) are beyond the ken of the natural man. This leads to the great principle and spring of it—the beginning of wisdom, “the fear of the Lord” (v. 13)—the bringing of God in so that His thoughts, not our will, have authority over us. Where that is, we hate wrong, the exercise of will, and selfishness, contrary to the relationships in which we stand. All self-will, and setting up of self, the evil way and perverse words, wisdom hates. But if the heat and pretension of will is hated of wisdom, with it is counsel (v. 14)— the wisdom of a staid reflective mind, subject and looking to the Lord, and the resources of sound judgment in difficulty, discernment, and strength. Compare Ecclesiastes 9:13-18, where mere physical strength is contrasted, and the way wisdom affords security is spoken of.
We now come to its direct earthly aspect in connection with God’s government of the earth. Government, righteous judgment, the rule of the great, depends on it. Thus we read of the wisdom of Solomon. They have to represent God in the discernment of good and evil and the maintenance of right by authority on the earth; this they can do only by divine wisdom.
But then there is another point applying to all hearts— loving it for its own sake, and diligence of heart in seeking it: real delight in God’s wisdom in itself, and the sense of obligation to realise it. “I love them that love me, and they that seek me early shall find me.” Wisdom is loved for its own sake, and diligence of heart seeks it as a duty incumbent on us. But in the earthly government of God it brings its reward. This was fully the ground the law went upon. The Godfearing obedient man was to be blessed in his basket and blessed in his store. But there is more than this—riches that do not perish, and righteousness that the heart delights in as its treasure. Wisdom walks in the path of righteousness, discerns by the action of the conscience and the word how men are to walk and to please God. It discerns what is right in all the complicated scene of this world, gives a sure path in it according to God. Seeking only to please Him, it gives motives above the circumstances and thus a path through them. We do what is right in them. We walk in firmness and a plain path where the circumstances would afford none. This is a great comfort. We are not careful to answer in the matter. Divine wisdom is in the fear of the Lord and uprightness. There is light, divine light, on the path, where all is dark around, for divine wisdom knows its path here by righteousness. This is its path. That is a light on the path. We cannot do otherwise, though it may seem folly, and trial may accompany it. It is God’s way, and that turns out right even in this world, though it may at the time seem a sacrifice of everything, and bring trouble upon us. So Joseph; but it led him here below under God’s overruling hand to a place which, humanly speaking, he would not otherwise have had. This was not his motive. He did what was right and would not do what was wrong, and it brought him from a captive slave to be lord of Egypt.
I know Christians have much higher objects in hope and are called by them; but here we are on the ground of God’s government of the earth, and that government is carried on now, though not in the direct way it once was in Israel—a people of His own. Nor does wisdom ever get out of these paths. She is found only in “the paths of judgment.” In all cases and circumstances in which man has to walk, a way cast up in righteousness is the only one wisdom can walk in.5 She is always found in the midst of them (that is, cannot be out of the paths so formed and marked out). These are God’s, these are wisdom’s. And where God’s government is exercised in this world and for it, as wisdom’s place, such a path issues in blessing and prosperity. Suffering in a hostile world may be more specifically our portion now, though from Abel down it was there. Still there is such a government of which God has not let loose the reins. “He that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good, let him seek peace and ensue it: for the eyes of Jehovah are over the righteous,” etc. It is not only in Job’s time that it was true, that “he withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous.” This is government and the path of wisdom, an interesting point. But now the Spirit of God comes to counsels and purpose.
Wisdom has brought light into this world of confusion, divine light, but existed before the world was in the thoughts and counsels of God, Christ being the centre of all these counsels, and the object of God’s delight. He is the wisdom of God, as the power of God when He works. His works were the scene of wisdom, and the wisdom was eternal—was there before the works and power displayed in the works, but with a fuller counsel yet. There is a path which God treads, so to speak—a path unfolding what is the fruit of His thoughts; but that path is not mere power without a plan and counsel; nor is he dealing wisely with what He finds, as we have to do. Wisdom is precious in that; but then it is in subjection, and a righteousness which is true wisdom, but which is obligatory on us: we have to find wisdom’s path where we are, by doing right, for we owe that to God. But God possessed it in the beginning of His way. The point is not here that there was wisdom displayed in creation—no doubt there Vas; but the point is that, before the world existed, wisdom had its place with God. We have to find the path of it in creation, now ruined; but God’s mind and thought was before it all. This is what is brought out from verse 22 to the end of verse 29. No doubt wisdom was displayed when He prepared the heavens and put a compass on the face of the deep; but before all wisdom was there. It was there when He did it; but itself was from eternity. The earth was an occasion for its display—a work adapted by wisdom to the divine glory and the ends of that wisdom; but it was wisdom, it was itself, before it found a sphere for its display; and creation was its fruit, but not its object. It was itself, had its place with God, and its object on which its purpose rested.
The first statement as to this is, that Jehovah possessed this wisdom already when His way began the movement to produce anything outside Himself—to reveal Himself. In the beginning of His way, before His works, wisdom was inaugurated,6 established as the authority and order on which, being in the mind of God, all was to be ordered and established. But, secondly, it was there in the secret time of eternity. It is in fact summed up in John 1 concerning the Word. Jehovah possessed this wisdom (it was the outset of all things) before the earth—in which His ways have been unfolded—existed. It was produced from Jehovah, brought forth as the fruit of His being in itself, before creation—what was outside Himself— existed. And not only this earth, but when He “prepared the heavens,” wisdom was there. All this marks this wisdom as the produce and mind of Jehovah in itself and in Himself, before mere creation (which existed from His fiat and word) had begun to exist. It is divine and in Godhead, as creation exists by His word outside Himself. No doubt it is spoken of mystically here; but Christ is it, and its revealed fulness and manifestation. He who is this was in the Father before the world was, before anything existed but what was in Godhead itself. He was God, but, as thus looked at, as subsisting, He was with God, and all things by Him, as the whole scene of the wisdom of the divine mind. But there was more than this. Wisdom was, objectively, the delight of the divine mind. The thoughts it produced were perfect, necessarily as itself, and the delight of the mind that produced them. They answered to it. We do so with our petty minds, and yet ours answer often imperfectly even to our small minds, and all is partial. Divine wisdom was according to divine fulness and perfection, and expressed it as a whole, and was the divine delight. Christ was all this in His Person; but here it was taken up abstractedly. It was always with God, by Him, in immediate intimacy of nature and fellowship; One brought up in love7 by Him; His delight day by day. It is a wonderful description.
But not only was divine delight in this wisdom here fully looked at as a person, but it too (or perhaps we should now say He) was ever rejoicing before God at all times. This object of God’s delight was rejoicing itself before Him; so, subordinately and by grace, we are “holy and without blame before Him in love.” But here it was an eternal and divine object— what was in Godhead itself, yet with God objectively. Jehovah possessed wisdom as His delight before anything out of Himself was formed; and this wisdom was One rejoicing before Him. But there was a purpose that occupied wisdom before the sphere and scene existed in which the object of that purpose was to be developed. Wisdom rejoiced in the habitable parts of God’s earth, and its delight was with the sons of men. How wondrously does this come in! Though surely a wise God ordered the creation, yet wisdom was set on other things—man was the object in view. That wisdom, whose joy was before God and who was the delight and joy of God, was not delighting in the earth but in the habitable parts of it. There was purpose. A poor trivial part of creation, if merely of creation—if we look at the vastness of the scene in which he moves, but the centre of all God’s purposes—the object of His thought before creation—complete in purpose, in whom, according to the purpose of that wisdom, was to be set up the whole display of it. The habitable parts of God’s earth wisdom delighted in, and its delight was in the sons of men.
Man was first created a responsible being, but as a being, God’s delight, the centre of His ways here below, made in His image, after His likeness, and the image withal of Him that was to come. But this (though God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so that he was His offspring) yet was a responsible man as a creature, and as a creature failed. But after many exercises and preparatory dealings of wisdom, He who was the wisdom of God and His power, by whom all things were created, became Himself a man. Life was in Him, “and the life was the light of men”—in its very nature was such. The angels could then, in unjealous and holy strains, declare that God’s good pleasure was in man.8 A wondrous and blessed thought! He who had this place with the Father was made flesh—God’s delight down here, God manifest in flesh; grace to man, grace in man, man taken into union with God in one Person—the pledge of peace on earth, “Glory to God in the highest.” But as yet, as to its effect on others, it was connected with the responsibility of those around Him— “He was despised and rejected of men.” This unspeakable favour and blessing (for the creature’s mind was still in question) was rejected and cast away. But now wisdom’s purpose could come out, and—founded on that perfect work which He accomplished (tnrough this very wickedness to make it more complete and glorious) on that which glorified God Himself—the purpose, established before the world was, is revealed in glorified man, yet righteously in obedient man; and in One who had glorified God in all that He was, in that in which He who did so was made sin for us. He met all the requirements of God, all the responsibility of those who came to God by Him, bearing their sins; He manifested the righteous ground of grace addressed to all, and glorified God so as to bring many sons—man—into glory, God’s glory.
Now came out the manifold wisdom of God by the church, displayed even to principalities and powers in heavenly places, in the union of man with the very centre of glory, and heirs in that, of all which was to be placed under His hands as man. The proper purpose was our own place in and united to Him and with Him; but this involved the dominion which belonged to Him as man (see Titus 1:1, 2; 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:3-5 and following, and 1 Cor. 2:6-8); all the responsibility of the first man met, for those who believe, and as to God’s glory, absolutely and completely; and the foundation laid for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in righteousness, according to the full glory of that purpose—grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Responsible man. came in between the purpose and its accomplishment—failed as such; and then in the perfect man, the Son of God, grace finds its free display in righteousness and the purpose accomplished in glory. When we know Christ, we know the meaning of that; His delights were in the sons of men. Wondrous thought! but how true, how simple to us, when we see the eternal Word and Wisdom a man! How sweet, for we are men! How wondrous, to see glory in righteousness with Him when grace has reigned through it, when God has been glorified and has glorified our Head with Himself; and we soon to have the rest with Him according to the same righteousness! “For he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.”
It is because God’s delight is in the sons of men that wisdom now calls them to heave (v. 32); and though her ways seem strange to the pride and pretension of man, boasting of righteousness because ignorant of God, yet wisdom is justified of all her children in the solemn call to repentance on responsibility, and the blessed announcement of grace in goodness, both the proofs of mercy, of God’s interest in man; and, indeed, all God’s nature and ways—all His being is displayed in redemption and grace. Love, mercy, holiness, judgment, righteousness, patience, intolerance of evil, majesty, and tender condescension in grace; the coming in of evil, its extent, and the surmounting it in grace, and yet through righteousness, such as nought else could have done—all is brought out in the work of Christ and by its effect in the heart of man, so that in him it should be all displayed, yet all be sovereign grace to him; for the Son of God being a man in glory and having died, tells a tale nothing else could tell—divine glory; and death as made sin, yet death overcome in resurrection, death to deliver us, death where all was perfectness for God and in man, and by which God could display all He was—Christ gave Himself up for that, and is in the glory.
Therefore wisdom calls on us to listen to her, for it is grace: it is because God delights in us. “Blessed are they that keep my ways.” It is the activity of God’s goodness calling to that only path which leads to rest and the peaceful favour of God: and I recall here the distinct principle of this chapter. It is not the warnings of natural authority, the ordained channel, of wisdom in a relationship formed by God. It is the direct call of wisdom; the call in grace of the divine Word itself to man as such, because His delight is in them, as in the ministry of John Baptist and Christ, above the natural relationship, and directly from God to the consciences and hearts of men, bringing about purpose; but in the righteous, gracious summons of God. It is wonderful—this direct appeal in grace. It may rudely break in upon the natural relationships and set five in one house divided, three against two and two against three, because it is direct and individual from God Himself and it brings about purpose in result. Hence, though peace on earth even was to be the result in purpose, yet in present operation Christ could say, “Suppose ye that I am come to send peace on earth?” And hence He was straitened till the baptism in which He glorified God was accomplished; because the unbelief of man drove back into the recesses of His heart the love, which, when the work of glorifying God in righteousness was accomplished, could flow freshly forth. Then the ground for the accomplishment of purpose according to glory was fully laid, and Christ enters in resurrection into the fruit of righteousness in glory; and, when all is accomplished, He will raise us up at the last day, responsibility being fully met, yea God glorified, in that which did it.
When wisdom came addressing itself to responsibility it had only to complain. “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer?” But the truth was, the Son was too perfect, too glorious, to be discerned by man. God “hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes.” Blessed those who (in this gracious appeal to children, which puts God in grace, where nature stood in authority on His part—not my children indeed, but “children,” sons, interested in them in that character) keep wisdom’s ways, “hear instruction and refuse it not.” The first we have in the Sermon on the Mount, keeping wisdom’s ways: the second in Mary at Jesus’ feet, and in principle in those who knew that the words of eternal life were to be found nowhere else. “For whoso findeth me, findeth fife and shall obtain favour of Jehovah.” But there is more than pressing men to hear and keep the instruction of wisdom (compare Luke 11:28; Matt. 13:23); there is earnestness of heart on our part, waiting upon it, “watching daily at my gates, and waiting at the posts of my doors.” It is not mental effort, the production of the human mind, but waiting on divine teaching as Mary did, “as new born babes desiring the sincere milk of the word.” It is not here the proclamation of wisdom, but the desires of the heart towards it thus manifested. Here life is found, for it is the word of life, and that man finds the favour of Jehovah: the double aspect of divine blessing; in us life, divine life, and divine favour resting upon us. He that sins against it injures his own soul (v. 36). There is a path in which will walks to its own ruin. It is not God’s path. Our own will hates the path of divine will, which is for us a subject path, but that ends in death. It is not the causes in grace which deliver which are spoken of, but the fact of what is found in result. As the apostle teaches us in Romans; “to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and incorruptibility,” eternal life was to favour. “If a man love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” It was no question surely whether Christ had life; He was life. But that was the path in which He walked in divine favour. It is not here grace saving sinners and giving them glory, but the path (including the state of the heart) in this world, in which life and favour are found—God bringing in testimony in grace of what He is pleased in, and wisdom shewing us how we are to walk and to please God. It is for us what we have heard of the word of life. We live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
We have seen the wondrous revelation of the purpose of God in man, but we must remember that here earth is dealt with when we come to details. The principle is always true in every testimony of the Lord now or then. The immediate connection here is the earth, because there this testimony came, there it found responsible man. Its most direct and evident application is in the Person of the Lord Jesus on earth. Only like the parable of the sower, or John the Baptist even, it is always true when the cry of wisdom or wisdom itself is gone forth. John was transitional and pointed to another; that other was wisdom’s self, and John (Matt, n) had to come in on His cry. Still the children of wisdom justified God’s wisdom in him. The law and the prophets were till John. He led into wisdom’s paths, going before the face of the Lord.
2 Proverbs 26:11 clearly explains this passage; only greatness is added here in verse 23. He repeats his folly—continually goes on from one to another.
3 Such, I suppose, is the real force of the passage (v. 2, 3). He is in his neighbour’s hand, and he must go and humble himself in pressing on his neighbour to clear the matter; which is humbling, after he has pretended to secure it all.
4 In the Hebrew I suspect there is more of will withal in perverse, Prov. 8:8; while froward is in the main “interwoven,” and so subtle and perverse.
5 When it is said in verse 20 “I lead,” it is really as in margin “I walk.” Wisdom is never found out of this path.
6 “Set up” is literally, “anointed.” It is the same word as in Psalm 2:6, translated, “I have set.”
7 The Hebrew word has created a difficulty. But it seems to be from a word giving it the force of the “nursling of his love”; the character and intimacy of the divine delight figuratively expressed. The word itself is used only here. Hence some (as Vulg., LXX, Luther) have referred it to another root, making it mean “the workman or orderer of Jehovah.” Compare Canticles 7:1, “workman,” or “artist.”
8 The words translated “good will towards men,” Luke 2:14, are the same word (a substantive for a verb) as “in whom I have found my pleasure,” Luke 3:22.