Virtues and vices in civil life
I. SOME VICES OF SOCIETY .
1 . Envious greed. ( Proverbs 12:12 .) The wicked desires the "takings" of the evil. It is a general description of greedy strife and competition, one man trying to forestall another in the bargain, or to profit at the expense of his loss; a mutually destructive process, a grinding of egoistic passions against one another, so that there can be no mutual confidence nor peace ( Isaiah 48:22 ; Isaiah 57:21 ). The hard selfishness of business life, which may be worse than war, which elicits generosity and self-denial.
2 . Tricks eye speech. ( Proverbs 12:13 .) How much of this there is, in subtler forms than those of ancient life, in our day! Exaggerations of value, suppression of faults in articles of commerce, lying advertisements, coloured descriptions, etc.,—all these are snares, distinct breaches of the moral law; and were they not compensated by truth and honesty in other directions, society must crumble.
3 . Conceit of shrewdness ( Proverbs 12:14 ) is a common mark of dishonest men. This may seem right in their own eyes, no matter what a correct moral judgment may have to say about it. There may lurk a profound immorality beneath the constant phrase, "It pays!" Want of principle never does pay, in God's sense. The seeming success on which such men pride themselves is not real. They laugh at the preacher, but expose themselves to a more profound derision.
4 . Passion and impetuosity. ( Proverbs 12:16 .) The temper unfits for social intercourse and business. Flaming out at the first provocation, it shows an absence of reflection and self-control. How many unhappy wounds have been inflicted, either in word or deed; how many opportunities lost, friendships broken, through mere temper!
5 . Lying and deceit. ( Proverbs 12:17 .) The teaching of the book harps upon this string again and again. For does not all evil reduce itself to a lie in its essence? And is not deceit or treachery in some form the real canker in a decaying society, the last cause of all calamity? "We are betrayed!" was the constant exclamation of the French soldiers during the last war, upon the occurrence of a defeat. But it is self-betrayal that is the most dangerous.
6 . Foulness or violence of speech. ( Proverbs 12:18 .) The speech of the fool is compared to the thrusts of a sword. Not only all abusive and violent language, but all that is wanting in tact, imagination of others' situation, is condemned.
7 . Designing craft. ( Proverbs 12:20 .) The wicked heart is a constant forge of mischief. And yet, after this catalogue of social ills, these moral diseases that prey upon the body of society and the state, let us be comforted in the recollection
The first and last of frauds with the wicked is that he has cheated himself and laid a train of malicious devices which will take effect upon his own soul certainly, whoever else may escape.
II. SOCIAL VIRTUES .
1 . They are the condition of security to the practiser of them. The root of the righteous is firmly fixed ( Proverbs 12:12 ). In time of distress he finds resources and means of escape ( Proverbs 12:13 ).
2 . They yield him a revenue of blessing. He reaps the good fruit of his wise counsels and pure speech. They come back to him in echoes—the words of truth he has spoken to others ( Proverbs 13:2 ; Proverbs 18:20 ). And so too with his good actions. They come back with blessing to him who sent them forth with a prayer ( Proverbs 12:14 ). Spiritual investments bring certain if slow returns.
3 . Some characteristics of virtue and wisdom enumerated.
4 . Truthful speech is one of the most eminent signs of virtue and godliness How constantly is this emphasized!
5 . Joy, peace, and eternal safety are the portion of the wise and just (verses 20, 21). Joy in the heart, peace in the home and amongst neighbours, safety here and hereafter. Translated into the language of the gospel, "Glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life!" ( Romans 2:7 ). For in one word, he enjoys the favour of his God, and this contains all things (verse 22). - J.
The downward and the upward paths
Whether we are daily ascending or descending depends very much on whether we are ready or are refusing to learn The man of open mind is he who moves up, but the man whose soul is shut against the light is he who is going down.
I. THE DOWNWARD PATH . We strike one point in this path when we come to:
1 . The forming of a false estimate of ourself. When "our way is right in our own eyes" ( Proverbs 12:15 ), and that way is the wrong one, we are certainly in the road that dips downward. The wise who love us truly are grieved when they see us imagining ourselves to be humble when we are proud of heart, generous when we are selfish, spiritual when we are worldly minded, sons of God when we are children of darkness; they know well and sorrow much that we are in a bad way, in the downward road.
2 . The consequent refusal to receive instruction. The man who thinks himself right is one who will oppose himself to all those who, and to all things which, approach him to instruct and to correct. He takes up a constant attitude of rejection. Whenever God speaks to him by any one of his many agents and influences, he is resolutely and persistently deaf.
3 . The consequent sinking into a lower state; he becomes "brutish." A man who never admits correcting and purifying thoughts into his mind is sure to decline morally and spiritually. If our soul is not fed with truth, and is not cleansed with the purifying streams of Divine wisdom, it is certain to recede in worth; it will partake more and more of earthly elements. The finer, the nobler, the more elevating and enlarging elements of character will be absent or will grow weaker; the man will sink; he will become brutish.
II. THE UPWARD PATH . This is, naturally and necessarily, the reverse of the other. It is that wherein:
1 . We form a true estimate of ourselves.
2 . We open our minds to welcome wisdom from all quarters. We. hearken "unto counsel," i.e. to the words of those who are wiser than ourselves. And it may be that some who have much less learning, or experience, or intellectual capacity than we can claim are in a position to advise us concerning the way of life. It may be even "the little child" who will "lead" us into the circle of truth, into the kingdom of God. And not only unto "counsel" shall we hearken; we shall give heed, if we are wise, to the suggestions of nature, to the teaching of events, to the promptings of the Divine Spirit. We shall be always ready and even eager to learn and willing to apply.
3 . We attain to a higher and deeper wisdom. "Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge." In the upward way which he of the humble heart and open mind is travelling there grow the rich fruits of heavenly wisdom. The higher we ascend, the more of these shall we see and gather. To love counsel is to love knowledge; it is to love truth; it is to become the friend and disciple and depository of wisdom. There is a knowledge which is very precious that may be had of all men; it is found on the plain where all feet can tread. There is also a knowledge which dwells upon the hills; only the traveller can reach this and partake of it; and the path which climbs this height is the path of humility and heedfulness; it is taken only by those who are conscious of their own defect, and who are eager to learn all the lessons which the Divine teacher is seeking to impart.—C.
The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips; rather, in the transgression of the lips is an evil snare ( Proverbs 18:7 ). A man by speaking unadvisedly or intemperately brings trouble upon himself, involves himself in difficulties which he did not foresee. Often when he has spoken in order to injure others, the slander or the censure has redounded on himself (comp. Psalms 7:15 , Psalms 7:16 ; Psalms 9:16 ). The just; the man who does not offend with his lips, avoids these snares. The Septuagint here introduces a couplet not found in the Hebrew: "He who looketh gently ( ὁ βλέπων λεῖα ) shall obtain mercy; but he who frequents the gates [or, 'contends in the gates,' συναντῶν ἐν πύλαις ] will harass souls." This seems to mean the man who is calm and considerate for others will himself be treated with pity and consideration ( Matthew 5:7 ); but he who is a gossip, or a busybody, or litigious, will be always vexing his neighbours.