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E X POSITION
BOOK OF PROVERBS.
THE REV. CHARLES BRIDGES, M.A.,
VICAR OF OLD NEWTON, SUFFOLK ;
AUTHOR OF AN
PITTSBURG, 56 MARKET STREET.
PROVERBIAL teaching is one of the most ancient forms of instruction. It was well adapted to the rudeness and simplicity of the first ages, when books were few, and philosophy little understood. The mind, unpractised to the slow process of reasoning, would be much more easily ar. rested by terse sentences, expressing a striking sentiment in the fewest words. The wise man himself has given the best definition of these sententious maxims. Their elegance he describes under the figure of “ ples of gold in pictures (network) of silver." Their force and permanent impression are as goads and nails fastened by the Master of assemblies"? —driven closely home to the heart and conscience, and fastened in the memories by the appointed instructor of the people.
The antiquity of this teaching was recognized in the Church even before the age of Solomon.: Classic annals have recorded aphorisms similarly constructed from men of wisdom. All of these however were of a later date. Some possibly might be dim scintillations from this fountain light; so that he was, as an old expositor has remarked—the disciple of none, but the instructor of them all." Indeed his mind largely dealt in this intellectual exercise. “He spake three thousand proverbs.' And from this valuable mass of thought he was directed under Divine inspiration, to " set in order” a collection for the instruction of the Church to the end of time.
Possibly some would rather have desired the preservation of his discourses on Natural History than on Practical Wisdom. But this Sovereign discrimination shows the real intent of the Scriptures—not to teach philosophy, but religion ; not to make men of science, but men of sound godliness.
All competent judges will admit this Book to be eminently fitted for this great end. What the Roman Orator pronounced of Thucydides applies far more truly to this King of Jerusalem—so full of matter, that he comprised as many sentences as words.' This wonderful Book is in
I Chap. xxv. 11.
2 Eccles. xii. 11. LXX. write napojital (rapa oros-via-sayings spoken in the way. Comp. Dr. Johnson's definition) a word often used in New Testament for parables. John x. 6; xvi. 25, 29. Marg. Both were of the same popular character. A proverb is often given in the form of a parable. 3 1 Sam. xxiv. 13.
4 Lavater. Comment. in Prov. Pref. Tigur. 1586. 5 1 Kings iv. 32.
6 Ecclus. xü. 9. Grotius supposes the Book to be a compilation from preceding writers. This degradation of Solomon is a gratuitous conjecture, unsupported by a tittle of evidence. But such are the irreverent liberties, that proud learning dares to take with the Word of God!
7 1 Kings iv. 33.
8 Cicero de Oratore, Lib. i. 14. Elsewhere he gives nearly the same judgment of Euripides. Epist. Lih: rvi. 8.
deed a mine of Divine wisdom. The views of God are holy and rever. ential. The observation of human nature is minute and accurate. The rule of life and conduct is closely applied, to make “the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works ;" so that, as Mr. Scott well remarks—we shall perceive the meaning and utility of the Proverbs, in proportion to our experience in true religion, our acquaintance with our own hearts, and with human nature, and the extent and accuracy of our observation on the character and affairs of men.'? Eu. sebius mentions the whole consent of the ancients, considering the Book of Proverbs to be · Wisdom fraught with every kind of virtue." Bishop Hall draws out mainly from it a complete system of Divine Arts. And though the apostate Julian scornfully preferred to it the sayings of Heathen Philosophy;" yet the apostrophe of the son of Sirach was justly applied to its author— How wise wast thou in thy youth, and as a flood filled with understanding! Thy soul covered the whole earth, and thou fillest it with dark parables.'
As to its canonical authority'—Michaelis well observes that no Book of the Old Testament is so well ratified by the evidence of quotations.”? A few of the Jewish Talmudists appear to have expressed some doubt of its Divine stamp, but upon grounds so futile, that they were abandoned upon a more mature consideration. Ecclesiastical History has recorded only one dissentient from the judgment of the universal Church ; and that one condemned by her authoritative council." Witsius has admirably refuted the neological cavils of his day. Nothing has been said from any quarter to weaken the unhesitating decision of our judgment, that the
pen is that of the King of Israel ; but the words are the Wisdom of God.
Some difference exists among expositors as to the exact divisions of the Book. We have been led to divide it into three parts. In giving a more succinct account of these several parts, we shall avail ourselves largely, though necessarily in an abridged form, of the observation of a Biblical
1 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17.
2 Pref. to Comment. on Prov. 3 Hist. Lib. iv. c. 25. maváoerov rogiav. Jerome's direction to one of his friends for the education of his daughter is—Let her have first of all the Book of Psalms for holiness of heart, and be instructed in the Proverbs of Solomon for ber godly life.' Epist. vii. ad Lætam. Matthew Henry in his beautiful portrait of his mother describes her as one, 'that was very well versed in Solomon's Proverbs, and the rules of wisdom, which may be fetched from thence for the conduct of human life, and knew how to apply them, and to use knowledge aright. Sermon on the Death of Mrs. Katharine Henry.
4 Solomon's Divine Arts of Ethics, Politics, Economies-that is—the Government of Behavior, Commonwealth, Family-drawn into method out of his Proverbs and Ecclesiasties. Works, viii. 427. Edited by Rev. P. Hall. Oxford, 1837.
5 Apud Cyrill. Contra Julian, Lib. vii.
6 Ecclus. xlvii. 14, 15. The whole passage (verses 12–22) is very beautiful. Eusebius remarks of Solomon, that while, inspired by Divine wisdom, he consecrated all his writings to the profit and salvation of souls; yet he used these dark parables' for the exercise of the mind. Contr. Marcell. Lib. i. c. ii. p. 17.
? Introd. to New Test. i. 207. Comp. especially in LXX. Chap. ij. 7, with Rom. xii. 16; 11, 12, with Heb. xii. 5, 6; 34, with James iv. 6. 1 Pet. v.5; x. 12, with 1 Peter iv. 8; xi. 31, with 1 Pet. iv. 18; xxv. 6, 7, with Luke xiv. 8-10; 21, 22, with Rom. xii. 20; xxvi, 11, with 2 Pet. ii. 22; xxvii. 1, with James iv. 13, 14. It is a marked distinction drawn between this Book, and the Apocryphal Book of Wisdom so siinilar in character, that from the latter no quotation can be adduced in the New Testament.
8 Hottenger. Thesaur. Philol. Lib. i. c. 1. sect. 14. Comp. Carpzov. Introd. ad Lib. Canon. Part ii. c. iv. $. 7.
9 Theodore Mopsuest condemned by 5th Council of Constantinople, A. D. 551. 10 Miscell. Sacra. Lib. i. c. xvui. 30-34.
scholar, not more remarkable for his profound learning, than for his elegant taste.
The First Part—all agree-extends from the opening of the Work to the close of the ninth chapter. It is—as Dr. Good observes—chiefly confined to the conduct of early life. All the most formidable dangers to which this season is exposed, and the sins which most easily beset it,” are painted with the hand of a Master. And while the progress and issues of vice are exhibited under a variety of the most striking delineations and metaphors in their utmost deformity and horror; all the beauties of language, and all the force of eloquence are poured forth in the diversified form of earnest expostulation, insinuating tenderness, captivating argument and sublime allegory, to win the ingenuous youth to virtue and piety, and to fix him in a steady pursuit of his duties towards God and man.
Virtue is pronounced in the very outset to be essential wisdom, and vice or wickedness essential folly. The only wise man therefore is declared to be the truly good and virtuous, or he that fears God, and reverences his law; while the man of vice and wickedness is a fool, a stubborn or perverse wretch, and an abomination to Jehovah.
• Wisdom is hence allegorized as a tree of life, yielding delicious shade, fruit and protection to those that approach her branches; throwing a garland of honor around their shoulders, and decorating their heads with a graceful chaplet, more precious than rubies. She is a sage and eloquent monitor, lifting up her warning voice at the gates and in the squares of the city; denouncing to the young the snares and dangers, to which they are exposed; and exhorting them to abandon “ the way of the wicked, which is as darkness,” for the path of the just, which is
As the brightening dawn,
Advancing and brightening to perfect day." • The Second Pari commences at the opening of the ninth chapter, as is obvious from the introductory clause. The style and manner of the second part are as different as possible from those of the first. It is evidently designed for the use of persons advanced from the state of youth to that of manhood. While in the preceding, addressed to the young, the richest ornaments of the fancy are made choice of to captivate their attention, and allure them to a right practice; in the present all is business and activity, brevity, continuity, and terseness. Every thought, though as highly polished, is at the same time as compressed as possible; and the Writer, thoroughly aware of the value of every moment of time at this important period, lays down a complete series of short rules of
| Extracts from an unpublished Translation of the Book of Proverbs, by the late Dr. Good, in his life by Dr. Gregory, pp. 286—306.
2 We add two interesting testimonies, of a widely different character. The first part—including the first nine chapters—is a kind of exordium, and is varied, elegant, sublime, and truly poetical. The natural order is generally observed, and the parts are aptly connected together. It is embellished with very beautiful descriptions and prosopoas, and adorned with the most finished style, together with every kind of poetical ornament; so that it scarcely yields, in beauty, to any specimen of Sacred Poetry.' Bp. Lowth's Lectures on Heb. Poetry, xxiv. (Mr. Holden ventures to doubt whether this picture is not somewhat over-wrought. Pref. to Translation of Proverbs. xxxix.) “The first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs present us with a most interesting specimen of "acceptable words.” There is in them an inimitable union of admonitory fidelity, and enticing and subduing kindness. Like Paul, he "exhorts, comforts, and charges, as a father doth his children.” The whole soul of the writer is breathed ou' in the earnestness of benevolent desire.' Wardlaw on Ecclus. xii. 10.