J. R. Miller
Proverbs 12:1 "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." He who really wants to choose the path of life, who desires to grow wiser and better, will welcome whatever teaches him a lesson, though it is painful or hard. He will be glad for whatever shows him a fault in himself, that he may correct it. We are living at our best only when we are eager to grow into perfection, and are ready to put away every fault which we find in ourselves, anything which mars our beauty of character. Someone says: "Count yourself rich that day you discover a new fault in yourself, not rich because it is there—but rich because it is no longer a hidden fault; and if you have not found all your faults, pray to have them revealed to you—even if the revelation must come in a way which hurts your pride."
The inspired writer tells us that he who hates reproof is brutish. That is rather plain talk. It means that he is like an animal, thinking only of present ease and comfort, without aspirations for nobler attainments. We have immortal souls and should desire ever to reach up to better things, at whatever cost to ourselves. We cannot grow in spiritual life without correction. Even a vine cannot come to its best, without pruning. No child will grow into beauty of life, if left to go its own way. It needs to be stimulated at some points, at others checked. It needs discipline, pruning, training.
No doubt "reproof" is often overdone. Parents are cautioned by Paul not to provoke their children to wrath, lest they be discouraged. But wise and loving reproof is always good. It is aimed only at the correction of faults. It points out something in the life that is not beautiful. It may cut and sting, and yet it should not be despised nor rejected. He who hates to be told of his faults is very short-sighted. "While the marble wastes—the image grows," said a great sculptor, as he chiseled away on his marble, sending the pieces of stone flying over the floor. The image can grow only by the wasting of the marble. If the stone were to resist the chisel and refuse to be cut away, it would be very foolish, for in no other way can it come into loveliness of form. God's corrections are like the sculptor's work on the stone. It is very foolish for us to reject them. It is choosing to keep our earthliness and faultiness, rather than suffer the correction of the Lord.
"A good man obtains favor from the Lord." Proverbs 12:2. Those who profit by God's correction shall obtain favor of the Lord. It is certainly worth while to have the Lord's favor. If we know that He is smiling upon us, we need not mind what the world thinks. It was very sweet for Mary, when the disciples were finding fault, to have Jesus say: "She has wrought a good work. She has done what she could." This approval of the Master healed the hurt, which the disciples' unfit words had caused.
Here we are told that a good man obtains God's favor. "A good man" is one who loves God and does His will. It does not say a great man, nor a wise man, nor a rich man, nor a strong man, nor a man of rank. If any of these were the qualification required, there would be a great many people who never could obtain the divine favor, for not very many of us are either great or wise or rich or noble. But the qualification is—a good man. That is within the reach of all of us. If only we are good it matters not what our condition in other regards may be.
The other side of this proverb is also instructive. "A man of wicked devices, He will condemn." Again, it is not poverty nor ignorance nor commonplace condition which misses the Lord's favor—but a bad heart, one full of intrigue, scheming and evil designs against others. If we would have God's favor we must keep a gentle heart.
Yet many people think they can make the most of their life by wickedness. They think a good life is slow and commonplace. They think common honesty quite too old-fashioned a way for men who want to advance in the world. They consider God's commandments altogether unsuited as foundation for a fortune. They want to get rich quickly, without waiting to gather money in honest ways. They think they can establish themselves much more securely and comfortably by taking things in their own hands and piling up a big castle of wealth, by methods that God's Word brands as wicked. Yes; and for a time they seem to succeed. The Bible says something about the wicked prospering like a green bay tree. But at length they will find that there is no foundation rock under all their magnificent building, nothing but loose sand, and the whole grand fabric will topple to ruin. Or if the earthly pile does stand for a while, it amounts to nothing as a refuge for their souls, for death comes and drives them out of it into eternal homelessness.
"The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit." Proverbs 12:5. Some people think they can pretend to be righteous and all will be well with them. But there must be something more than seeming righteousness. Even the thoughts of the righteous are just. God takes note of thoughts.
The inner and outer life must correspond. If you see a man whose life is righteous, you know that his thoughts are just. Unjust thoughts will never yield righteousness in act and conduct. Thoughts are wonderful things. They seem mere nothings, flecks of cloud flying through the air, flocks of birds flitting by—and then gone. But thoughts are the most real things about our life. They give it character. All things which we do—are first thoughts. Our thoughts fly out like birds and take their places in the world, and dwell there. Then our heart is always their nest, where they will return at last to dwell.
Words are thoughts expressed. What is in the heart in feelings, imaginings, and desires—comes out in speech. The speech of the righteous is pleasing. But the wicked are lacking in love. They have only hate in their hearts, and their words betray them. They are envious, jealous, resentful, and full of all bitterness. They cannot be trusted. There is no real friendship in sin. With one hand it draws its fellow to it in close embrace, and with the other it strikes the concealed dagger into his heart. Or like Judas it gives the kiss, which to one little company seems the kiss of affection, tender and true—but to another party it is seen as the kiss of betrayal.
The Wise Man gives another word of warning on the subject of speech; he says that in "the transgression of the lips is a snare to the evil man." There certainly are people who are brought into very much trouble through their tongues. The tongue is always saying things it ought not to say. It makes trouble for those who speak. They utter hasty words, indiscreet, foolish, false, unjust words—which make new enemies of others for themselves. Besides, these unguarded, uncontrolled tongues, work a vast amount of trouble for other people.
A characteristic of the righteous man is set forth in the unexpected statement that "he regards the needs of his animal." So, the movement on behalf of God's dumb creatures is not altogether modern. A long while ago it was known that goodness showed itself in gentleness toward animals. A boy who likes to stick pins through flies or pull out their wings, or who takes delight in throwing stones at dogs or cats, or robbing birds nests, or is cruel to his pony—has not a kindly heart. If you could see into it you would find something very unbeautiful there.
Many stories are told of great men who have shown kindness to birds and other creatures at much cost to themselves. A king left his royal tent standing once when his army moved, because a bird had built her nest in it and was sitting on her eggs. Mr. Corliss, the famous engine builder, when engaged in preparation for the erection of large shops, noticed that a bird had made her nest in a bank which had to be dug away. He gave orders that the work should stop until the mother bird had hatched out her young, and until they were old enough to flyaway. Boys need to study this verse very closely. They should learn its lesson well. If they ever drive horses they should not treat them cruelly, beating and abusing them—but should be their kindest friends. It is a question, too, whether girls should wear birds' wings in their hats after studying this verse. Millions of innocent little birds have to be killed every year—just to get adornments to gratify Christian women's taste for lovely bonnets!
This part of the Wise Man's message is completed by the statement that "a man shall be satisfied by the fruit of his mouth." We have but to do good and faithful planting—and we need not worry about the harvest. It is true on the farm and in the garden. He who sows and plants will reap and gather, and will not go hungry. But the application is wider. Youth is the sowing-time. A well-spent youth gives a satisfied and a satisfactory manhood and womanhood. All life is full of illustrations. Diligence yields a reward. Industry brings competence. Obedience gives blessing. Good behavior insures good reputation. The reverse is also true. "Whatever a man sows—that shall he also reap." An idler shall have bare fields in harvest time. Neglected lessons in school—can give only ignorance, dishonor, and failure in later life. He who sows wild oats shall reap-wild oats.
But it is usually true that the sower of wild oats feels that he is choosing the better way. Self-conceit is blind to its own faults. The self-conceited man sees plenty of faults in his neighbors. He thinks other people are mostly fools. His opinion of himself is always sublimely exalted. All he does is unquestionably right. His decisions are all most surely right. He has no faults. He can never by any possibility be mistaken. Nothing he does is ever wrong. "The way of the fool is right in his own eyes." We all know this man. He lives in our street. Pity, isn't it? that the Bible sets such a mark on him. It calls him a fool. It seems a little hard, too, that a man's estimate of himself must be so severely discounted. The lesson, however, is that we had better not think too highly of ourselves. The best thing is just to be and do our best always—and let other people estimate how good we are and how wise and great.