The fruit of righteousness ( of the righteous ) is a tree of life ( Proverbs 3:18 ; Proverbs 13:12 ); lignum vitae, Vulgate. That which the righteous say and do is, as it were, a fruitful tree which delights and feeds many. A good man's example and teaching promote spiritual health and lead to immortal life. Septuagint, "From the fruit of righteousness springeth a tree of life." And he that winneth souls is wise; rather, he that is wise winneth souls. The latter member is parallel to the former. He who gives men of the tree of life attracts souls to himself, to listen to his teaching and to follow his example. With this "winning of souls" we may compare Christ's promise to the apostles that they should "catch men" ( Luke 5:10 ; comp. James 5:20 ). The Septuagint introduces an antithesis not found in our Hebrew text: "But the souls of transgressors are taken untimely away." Ewald and others change the present order of clauses in Proverbs 11:29 and Proverbs 11:30 , thinking thus to improve the parallelism. They would rearrange the passage in the following way: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; but the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. The foolish shall be servant to the wise of heart; but he that is wise winneth souls." There is no authority whatever in the versions or older commentators for this alteration; and the existing arrangement, as we have shown, gives a very good sense.
Temporal and eternal contrasts
I. MEN FIND WHAT THEY SEEK . ( Proverbs 11:27 .) The favour of God, which includes all the elements of happiness by well doing, or sorrow by ill-doing. This law of antecedence and consequence in moral things, thus so reiteratedly pressed upon us, cannot be too constantly before the mind. Every moral action is a prophecy before the event; every moral result, a fulfilment of a previous prophecy.
II. THE CAUSES OF DECAY AND OF PROSPERITY . ( Proverbs 11:28 .) Trust in riches leads to moral downfall (comp. Proverbs 10:2 ; Psalms 49:6 , Psalms 49:7 ). By trust in riches is meant the habit of depending on them and their accessories—luxury and ease—as the main good in life. It is in this sense that "riches slacken virtue and abate her edge." The laxity and dissoluteness of the mind may well be compared to the limp and falling leaf. He, on the other hand, whose trust is in spiritual resources—the treasures of the kingdom of God—is like a tree full of sap; his foliage is abundant; his leaf ever green (Palm 92:13; Isaiah 66:14 ).
III. THE RETRIBUTION OF GREED AND OPPRESSION . ( Proverbs 11:29 .) The man who "troubles his house" is the close-fisted and greedy, who in his covetousness keeps his household upon scant fare or withholds from them their due pay ( Proverbs 15:27 ). Ahab is thus charged by Elijah as a "troubler of Israel" ( 1 Kings 18:17 , 1 Kings 18:18 ). But he reaps the wind, i.e. nothing from his misplaced care and exertion ( Isaiah 26:14 ; Hosea 8:7 ). Nay, he so comes down in the scale as actually often to fall into slavery to just and merciful lord ( Proverbs 11:24 ). These reversals in human life—more marked or easily observable, perhaps, in ancient times than with ourselves—remind men of a superior judgment, which constantly revises and corrects the short-sighted and superficial judgments of men.
IV. THE PRODUCTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS . ( Proverbs 11:30 .) All that the good man says and does becomes a source of blessing and life (a "tree of life") to many. He exercises an attractive power, and gathers many souls to his side for the service of God and the cause of truth.
V. THE CERTAINTY OF RECOMPENSE . ( Proverbs 11:31 .) This may be taken as an argument from the greater to the less. The sins of the righteous do not escape chastisement; how much less those of men unreconciled to God! "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" ( 1 Peter 4:18 ).—J.
The pricelessness of integrity
We have here a view of the exceeding worth of moral integrity, or of righteousness; we see what, in the judgment of the wise, it will do for its possessor. It will—
I. DIRECT HIS WAY . "The integrity of the upright shall guide them; …the righteousness of the perfect [ i.e. the upright] shall direct his way" ( Proverbs 11:3-5 ). And we read. ( Proverbs 10:9 ) that "he that walketh uprightly walketh surely." The man who honestly and earnestly seeks guidance of God will find what he seeks; he will know what he should do, and whither he should go, and how he should act, in the various relations of life. Instead of moving onwards and backwards, instead of inclining this way and that, he will walk straight on in the highway of justice, purity, devotion. And he will walk "surely." It is not in the way of holiness that the snares of sin or the stumbling blocks of folly are scattered about.
II. DELIVER HIM IN DANGER OR DISTRESS . ( Proverbs 11:4 , Proverbs 11:8 , Proverbs 11:9 .) "Many are the afflictions" even "of the righteous," but "the Lord delivereth him," etc.; "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness" ( Psalms 112:4 ). Righteousness brings deliverance in many ways.
1 . It secures the favour, and thus the merciful interposisition, of the Almighty.
2 . It commands the esteem, and thus the succour, of the good and true.
3 . It confers mental and physical vigour on its subjects, and makes them strong for the day of peril and of need.
4 . It endows with those moral qualities—conscientiousness, consciousness of rectitude, courage, patience, hopefulness, perseverance—which lead to victory.
III. MAKE HIM THE SOURCE OF ENLARGEMENT TO OTHERS . "The city is exalted" ( Proverbs 11:11 ). Every man is something the better for the integrity of his neighbor; and the contribution of many righteous men to the exaltation and enlargement of the city, or the Church, or the society, is very great. They are the salt which preserves it; they are the fountain and the garner which supply its need and minister to its strength.
IV. PROMOTE HIS PROSPERITY . ( Proverbs 11:28 , Proverbs 11:31 .) As a rule, upon the whole, the righteous man will prosper and be recompensed "on the earth." Sobriety, purity, justice, prudence; in fact, integrity conducts to well being now and here.
V. SECURE FOR HIM THE GOOD PLEASURE OF THE HIGHEST . ( Proverbs 11:20 .) What a recompense is this—"to be a delight unto the Lord," to "have this testimony, that he pleases God"! What a reward of the purest and most enduring kind to the Christian man, that he is "pleasing Christ," is living every day in the sunshine of his Lord's approval!
VI. ISSUES IN THE FULNESS OF LIFE . "He that is steadfast in righteousness shall attain unto life."
1 . Unto the fulness of spiritual life below; nearness of access to God; a real approval by God and of delight in him; constancy of service rendered unto him; growing likeness to his Divine spirit and character.
2 . Unto the fulness of eternal life hereafter.—C.
Wisdom's brightest crown and hardest task
"He that winneth souls is wise." Wisdom does many things for us; but we shall find—
I. ITS BRIGHTEST CROWN in the souls that it wins, Wisdom wins wealth, honour, friendship, knowledge; acquaintance with men and with nature; high position and commanding rule; the gratification that attends achievement. Wisdom makes great changes in the face of nature, and effects great results in the organization of men. But the crown which it wears is its beneficent work in human souls. "He that winneth souls is wise" indeed. For to do that is:
1 . To arrest a stream of evil influence, the full outflow and consequence of which it is impossible to estimate.
2 . To originate a stream of holy and helpful influence, the growing and widening range of which we cannot imagine.
3 . To turn back a human spirit from a course which leads downward to an opposite course which leads homeward and heavenward; it is to change the direction of one in whom are boundless capacities of accomplishment and of endurance, and to change it permanently for the better.
4 . It is to give joy of the purest kind to hearts of the greatest worth, and satisfaction to the Divine Saviour himself (see James 5:19 , James 5:20 ). It is wisdom's brightest crown; but it is also—
II. ITS HARDEST TASK . He that winneth souls must be, or needs to be, wise indeed; for he has a very great thing to do. He has:
1 . To oppose himself to he knows not what supernatural hostilities ( Ephesians 6:12 ).
2 . To do battle with human obduracy and the evil spirit of procrastination.
3 . To contend with the spiritual blindness and insensibility which are the sad consequence of long disloyalty.
4 . To baffle the arts of false friendship and overcome the blandishments of an evil world.
5 . To silence the deceitful voices which whisper to the awakened soul that there is no need to render an immediate and wholehearted decision; and thus to lead it to a full surrender to Christ and to his service.
6 . To persuade to a life of earnest and habitual devotion and holy usefulness. The practical lessons of the text are: