The Pulpit Commentary

Proverbs 27:21 (Proverbs 27:21)

Fining pot , etc. (see on Proverbs 17:3 ; comp. also Proverbs 25:4 ). So is a man to his praise. The Hebrew is literally, The crucible for silver , and the furnace for gold , and a man according , to his praise; i . e . as the processes of metallurgy test the precious metals, so a man's public reputation shows what he is really worth, as is stated in Proverbs 12:8 . As the crucible brings all impurities to the surface, so public opinion drags forth all that is bad in a man, and he who stands this test is generally esteemed. Certainly praise is a stimulus to exertion, an incentive to try to make one's self worthy of the estimation in which one is held, especially if he purifies it from the dross and earthliness mixed with it, and takes to himself only what is genuine and just. But public opinion is very commonly false end is always a very unsafe criterion of moral excellence. Hence other interpretations have been proposed. Ewald renders, "and a man according to his boasting," that is, according to that which he most praises in himself and others. So virtually Hitzig, Bottcher, Zockler, and others. In this view the gnome denotes that a man's real character is best examined by the light cast upon it by his usual line of thought, what he most prides himself upon, what he admires most in other men. Plumptre, after Gesenius and Fleischer, has, "So let a man be to his praise," i . e . to the mouth which praises him; let him test this commendation, to see what it is worth, before he accepts it as his due. The explanation first given seems on the whole most suitable, when we reflect that the highest morality is not always enunciated, and that secondary motives are widely recognized as factors in action and judgment. There are not wanting men in modern days who uphold the maxim, Vox populi, vox Dei . Septuagint, "The action of fire is a test for silver and gold, so a man is tested by the mouth of them that praise him." No surer test of a man's true character can be found than his behaviour under praise; many men arc spoiled by it. If a man comes forth from it without injury, not rendered vain, or blind to his defects, or disdainful of others, his disposition is good, and the commendation lavished upon him may be morally and spiritually beneficial. Vulgate, Sic probatur homo ore laudantis , "So is a man proved by the mouth of him that praises him." The following passage from St. Gregory, commenting on this, is worth quoting, "Praise of one's self tortures the just, but elates the wicked. But while it tortures, it purifies the just; and while it pleases the wicked, it proves them to be reprobate. For these revel in their own praise, because they seek not the glory of their Maker. But they who seek the glory of their Maker are tortured with their own praise, lest that which is spoken of without should not exist within them; lest, if that which is said really exists, it should be made void in the sight of God by these very honours; lest the praise of men should soften the firmness of their heart, and should lay it low in self-satisfaction; and lest that which ought to aid them to increase their exertions, should be even now the recompense of their labour. But when they see that their own praises tend to the glory of God, they even long for and welcome them. For it is written, "That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" ('Moral.,' 26.62, Oxford transl.). The LXX . adds a verse which is not found in the Hebrew, but occurs in some manuscripts of the Latin Version, "The heart of the transgressor seeketh out evils, but an upright heart seeketh knowledge."

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Proverbs 27:17-22 (Proverbs 27:17-22)

Wisdom for self and for others

I. THE BENEFIT OF INTELLIGENT SOCIETY . ( Proverbs 27:17 , Proverbs 27:19 .)

1 . The collision of mind with mind elicits truth , strikes out flashes of new perception . A man may grow wiser by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation. "Speech is like embroidered cloth opened and put abroad," said the mistochs to the King of Persia. In the collision of minds the man brings his own thoughts to light, and whets his wits against a stone that cuts not (Bacon).

2 . The reflection of mind in mind . ( Proverbs 27:19 .) For we are all "like in difference," and never see so clearly what is in our own spirit as through the manifestation of another's. As we have not eyes in the back of our head, so is introspection difficult—perhaps, strictly speaking, impossible. Self knowledge is the reflection of the features of oilier minds in our own.

II. SPIRITUAL LAWS .

1 . Diligent husbandry is rewarded . ( Proverbs 27:18 .) Whether we cultivate the tree, the master, the friend, our own soul, this law must ever hold good. Everything in this world of God's goes by law, not by luck; and what we sow we reap. Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them justly, and they will show themselves just, though they make an exception in your favour to all their rules of conduct.

2 . The quenchless thirst of the spirit . ( Proverbs 27:20 .) Who can set a limit to the human desire to know, to do, to be? The real does not satisfy us; we are ever in quest of the ideal or perfect. Evil excesses and extravagances of vicious passion are the reverse of this undying impulse of an infinite nature. God is our true Good; our insatiable curiosities are only to be satisfied by the knowledge of himself.

3 . The criterion of character . ( Proverbs 27:21 .) According to the scale of that which a man boasts of, is he judged. If he boasts of praise, worthy things, he is recognized as a virtuous and honest man; if he boasts of vain or evil things, he is abhorred. "Show me what a man likes, and I will show you what he is" (this according to what seems the true rendering of this proverb).

4 . Folly in grain . ( Proverbs 27:22 .) In the East the husk is beaten from the corn by braying in a mortar. But from the fool the husk of folly will not depart. It is possible to despise the lessons of affliction, to harden one's back against the rod. Mere punishment cannot of itself correct or convert the soul. The will, the conscious spiritual activity, must cooperate with God. A great man speaks of "that worst of afflictions—an affliction lost"—J.

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Proverbs 27:2-21 (Proverbs 27:2-21)

The praise of man

How far we should go in praising others, and in what spirit we should accept their praise, is a matter of no small importance in the conduct of life.

I. THE DUTY OF PRAISING OTHERS . "Let another man praise thee" can hardly be said to be imperative so far as he is concerned. But it suggests the propriety of another man speaking in words of commendation. And the duty of praising those who have done well is a much-forgotten and neglected virtue. I. It is the correlative of blame, and if we blame freely (as we do), why should we not freely praise the scholar, the servant, the son or daughter, the workman, etc.?

2 . With many hearts, perhaps with moat, a little praise would prove a far more powerful incentive than a large quantity of blame.

3 . To praise for doing well is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and of his apostles; it is to act as the most gracious and the most useful men and women have always acted.

4 . It is to do to others as we would they should do to us. We thirst for a measure of approval when we have done our best, and what we crave from others we should give to others.

II. THE WISDOM OF ABSTAINING FROM SELF - PRAISE . The injunction of Solomon appeals to our common sense. Yet is it by no means unrequired. Many men are guilty of the unseemliness and the folly of praising themselves—their ingenuity, their shrewdness, their persuasiveness, their generosity, etc. Probably if they knew how very little they commend themselves by so doing, how very soon they weary their audience, how often their language becomes positively nauseous, they would abstain. Self-vindication under a false charge is a duty and even a virtue; a very minute modicum of self-commendation may be occasionally allowable; anything beyond this is, at least, a mistake.

III. THE NECESSITY OF TESTING PRAISE . "The ordinary interpretation makes the praise try the man , but the words … in the original make the man try the praise " (Wardlaw). What the fining pot is to silver, that a man should be to his praise—he should carefully and thoroughly test it. For praise is often offered some part of which should be rejected as dross. The simple minded and the unscrupulous will praise us beyond the bounds of our desert, and to drink too much of this intoxicating cup is dangerous and demoralizing to us.

IV. THE PRACTICAL PROOF OF PRAISE . The duties and the difficulties that are before us will be the best possible proof of the sincerity and of the truthfulness of the praise we receive. We shall either be approved as the wise men we are said to be, or we shall be convicted of being less worthy than we are represented to be. Therefore let us be

V. THE TEST WHICH PRAISE AFFORDS . We stand blame better than praise; though it is right to recollect that we cannot stand more than a certain measure of blame, and few people are more objectionable or more mischievous than the scold. But much praise is a great peril. It elates and exalts; it "puffs up." It too often undermines that humility of spirit and dependence on God which are the very root of a strong and beautiful Christian character.

1 . Discourage all excess in this direction; it is dangerous.

2 . Care more for the approval of an instructed and well-trained conscience.

3 . Care most for the commendation of Christ.—C.

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