Charles Bridges: Exposition of the Book of Proverbs


We would conclude with a brief summary of a few prominent points involved in the study of this most instructive Book.
Let us observe the connection between inward principle and outward conduct. Never let it be forgotten, that the exercises, here described or inculcated, suppose an internal source. It is the light within, that shines without. The hidden life is thus manifested. “The fountain sendeth forth” its wholesome waters. The good tree bringeth forth good fruit. “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.” (Matthew 12:33, 35.) These therefore are the manifestations, not the innate principles. They flow from the cultivation of the source within. Nothing permanent is produced by change of opinion, excitement of feeling, conviction of conscience, but by a new mold of the heart. The “soft answer” (Chapter 15:1) is the outward exhibition of the softened and humble heart. The religion of sincere purposes, however promising, withers away, “having no root in itself.” (Matthew 13:21.) The ways and fashions of the world therefore rule with a far mightier power, than the dictates of God’s word, or the voice of conscience. The external apprehensions of the Christian system also are powerless without the internal principle. They exhibit a body of truth indeed, but a body without life, without any spring of influence or consolation. Religion, grounded in the heart, will regulate the outward conduct, and put everything in its proper place and proportion.
Let us mark also the flow of true happiness throughout the whole sphere of godliness. Often has the wise man painted this connection with the most glowing interest.† Most important is it to leave this impression upon the minds of all, specially of our young, readers, that religion is a joyous thing. With the world it is a matter to be endured, not to be enjoyed. The Pharisaic professor conceives of much to be done, but nothing to be enjoyed. With him it is a serious and most weighty concern. But no gleam of sunshine has he ever found in it. The man of pleasure has no conception of religion, except as the atmosphere of gloom; as absurd as to speak of the darkness of noonday. But notwithstanding all these misconceptions, no reality is more undoubted than this — Holiness is happiness. It is not indeed the mirth of the fool, or the giddy gaiety of the thoughtless. But it is the only thing, that deserves the name of happiness; the only solid, permanent principle of enjoyment.
‘Happy the believer’ — as an eloquent Preacher forcibly puts it — ‘who in his warfare with the enemies of his salvation, is able to oppose pleasure to pleasure, delight to delight; the pleasures of prayer and meditation to the pleasures of the world; the delights of silence and retirement to those of parties of dissipation or of public amusement. Such a man is steady and unmoved in the performance of his duties; and because he is man, and man cannot help loving what opens to him sources of joy; such a man is attached to religion by motives like those, that lead men of the world to attach themselves to the objects of their passions, because they procure him unspeakable pleasure.’† In fact the world’s contracted vision little qualifies them to pass judgment on what they have never apprehended. They see our infirmities, not our graces; our cross, not our crown; our affliction, not the “joy in the Holy Ghost,” which compensates and infinitely overpays for all that we can endure.
We wonder not, therefore, that the unenlightened mind naturally associates religion with restraint, never with freedom or confidence. But in fact actions, that are valued according to their conformity with the will of God, though they be secular in their character, are a part of his service, and ensure his acceptance. Taking up this right standard, we shall be able to resist our ruling passion. We shall occupy no doubtful position. We shall adopt no questionable course. We shall not lend the influence of our character to the spirit of this world. We shall feel, that we have only one object — only one obligation — to maintain the honor of our God. And yet this yoke of strict discipline is our happiness, not our burden. It is linked with a foretaste of heavenly happness, of which none of us have an adequate conception. Speculative religion is indeed dry and barren. Practical godliness is rich in its delights.† And while the defect of earthly joy is, that it comes to an end; the perfection of this happiness is, that it will endure throughout eternity. Yes, truly — it is not a mere temporary privilege. It is not a provision for drying our eyes, and diverting our sorrow for a time. It is “everlasting consolation.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16.) It is consolation, of which the present joy arises from the belief, that it will be everlasting, from looking forward and foretasting that which should be everlasting. Surely then in our most sorrowful hours we have far more reason for joy than for mourning; and we are hasting onward to the home, where “the days of our mourning will be ended” (Isaiah 60:20) for ever.
It is of great moment to remark the wise man’s estimate of real good. Every particle of the chief good he centers in God. To find him is life.† To fear him is wisdom.† To trust him is happiness.† To love him is substantial treasure.† To neglect him is certain ruin.† Now man is naturally an idolater. Himself is his center, his object, his end. Instead of submitting to guidance, he guides himself. He disputes the sovereignty with God. He would amend the laws of the Great Lawgiver. Need we add — “This his way is his folly”? (Psalm 49:13.) What then is the true good? “Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace.” (Job 22:21.) Not real, but known excellence quickens the desire. Our known God will be our portion.† He will claim our entire service.† He will shew himself to us as our chief good — a privilege worth ten thousand worlds to know — a satisfying portion for eternity. For indeed so intense is his divine love towards us, that he cannot be satisfied without accomplishing for us the whole eternal duration of enjoyment, that he hath laid up for us in himself. All that we could look for here in the most full and conscious enjoyment of our portion, we should “reckon as not worthy to be compared” with a single moment in heaven, when “we shall see face to face, and know even as also we are known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12.)
Let us study Christian completeness and consistency. The elements of this character will be brought out by a diligent and prayerful study of this important Book. Let them be put together in their due connection and proportion; and “the man of God will be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:17.) We want religion to be to the soul, what the soul is to the body — the animating principle. The soul operates in every member. It sees in the eye, hears in the ear, speaks in the tongue, animates the whole body, with ease and uniformity, without ostentation or effort. Thus should religion direct and regulate every thought, word, and act. In this day of light and knowledge, ignorance of our duty too often implies neglect of the means of instruction, and therefore is an aggravation of our fault, rather than our excuse. The grand object is, that the conscience be intelligently instructed under divine teaching. Then let the daily course be carefully regulated by it. Never turn aside a single step from its guidance. Never admit the maxims or habits of this world. Guard against everything that damps vital spirituality, lowers the high Scriptural standard, or slackens the energy of unremitting Christian watchfulness. Let our path be steadily balanced between compromising concession and needless singularity. Let the Christian only walk with God in the way of the Gospel. He will never be satisfied with appearing to maintain his ground. But he will acknowledge the wisdom of the discipline, which allows him no enjoyment of the present moment, except in grasping at something beyond him. (Philippians 3:12-14.) We want not a profession, that will give us a name in the Church, or even a stamp of reproach in the world; but one which places the divine image before our eyes, and animates us to a growing conformity to our standard. (Matthew 5:48.) The conscience thus enlightened, and the heart readily following its voice; the sins that carry less reproach with the world will be resisted, not less than those which are more revolting. We shall no more indulge an uncharitable spirit, than a course of profligacy. An angry tone, lowering look, sharp retort, or disparaging word, will cause grief to the conscience, and will be visited by its rebuke, as severely as those gross ebullitions, which disgrace our character before men. “Walking thus before God,” not before men, is Christian “perfection.” (Genesis 17:1.) His eye is our restraint — his judgment our rule — his will our delight.
But “Who is sufficient?” Child of God! let the trembling of insufficiency in thyself be stayed by the recollection of all-sufficiency in thy God.† What he demands of thee, that he works in thee. His covenant secures thy holiness, no less than thine acceptance — thine holiness, not, as some would have it, as the ground, but as the fruit, of thine acceptance. Let the one then be primarily sought; and the other will assuredly follow.