True wisdom consists in the due discharge of our duty towards man, as well as towards God, in honesty as well as piety, and therefore we have here divers excellent precepts of wisdom which relate to our neighbour.
I. We must render to all their due, both in justice and charity, and not delay to do it (Prov. 3:27, 28): “Withhold not good from those to whom it is due (either for want of love to them or through too much love to thy money) when it is in the power of thy hand to do it, for, if it be not, it cannot be expected; but it was thy great fault if thou didst, by thy extravagances, disable thyself to do justly and show mercy, and it ought to be the greatest of thy griefs if God had disabled thee, not so much that thou art straitened in thy own comforts and conveniences as that thou hast not wherewithal to give to those to whom it is due.” Withhold it not; this implies that it is called for and expected, but that the hand is drawn in and the bowels of compassion are shut up. We must not hinder others from doing it, not be ourselves backward to it. “If thou hast it by thee to-day, hast it in the power of thy hand, say not to thy neighbour, Go thy way for this time, and come at a more convenient season, and I will then see what will be done; to-morrow I will give; whereas thou art not sure that thou shalt live till to-morrow, or that to-morrow thou shalt have it by thee. Be not thus loth to part with thy money upon a good account. Make not excuses to shift off a duty that must be done, nor delight to keep thy neighbour in pain and in suspense, nor to show the authority which the giver has over the beggar; but readily and cheerfully, and from a principle of conscience towards God, give good to those to whom it is due,” to the lords and owners of it (so the word is), to those who upon any account are entitled to it. This requires us, 1. To pay our just debts without fraud, covin, or delay. 2. To give wages to those who have earned them. 3. To provide for our relations, and those that have dependence on us, for to them it is due. 4. To render dues both to church and state, magistrates and ministers. 5. To be ready to all acts of friendship and humanity, and in every thing to be neighbourly; for these are things that are due by the law of doing as we would be done by. 6. To be charitable to the poor and necessitous. If others want the necessary supports of life, and we have wherewithal to supply them, we must look upon it as due to them and not withhold it. Alms are called righteousness because they are a debt to the poor, and a debt which we must not defer to pay, Bis dat, qui cito dat—He gives twice who gives speedily.
II. We must never design any hurt or harm to any body (Prov. 3:29): “Devise not evil against thy neighbour; do not contrive how to do him an ill-turn undiscovered, to prejudice him in his body, goods, or good name, and the rather because he dwells securely by thee, and, having given thee no provocation, entertains no jealousy or suspicion of thee, and therefore is off his guard.” It is against the laws both of honour and friendship to do a man an ill-turn and give him no warning. Cursed be he that smites his neighbour secretly. It is a most base ungrateful thing, if our neighbours have a good opinion of us, that we will do them no harm, and we thence take advantage to cheat and injure them.
III. We must not be quarrelsome and litigious (Prov. 3:30): “Do not strive with a man without cause; contend not for that which thou hast no title to; resent not that as a provocation which peradventure was but an oversight. Never trouble thy neighbour with frivolous complaints and accusations, or vexatious law-suits, when either there is no harm done thee or none worth speaking of, or thou mightest right thyself in a friendly way.” Law must be the last refuge; for it is not only our duty, but our interest, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men. When accounts are balanced, it will be found there is little got by striving.
IV. We must not envy the prosperity of evil-doers, Prov. 3:31. This caution is the same with that which is so much insisted on, Ps. 37:1; 7-9 “Envy not the oppressor; though he be rich and great, though he live in ease and pleasure, and make all about him to stand in awe of him, yet do not think him a happy man, nor wish thyself in his condition. Choose none of his ways; do not imitate him, nor take the courses he takes to enrich himself. Never think of doing as he does, though thou wert sure to get by it all that he has, for it would be dearly bought.” Now, to show what little reason saints have to envy sinners, Solomon here, in the Prov. 3:32-35 of the chapter, compares the condition of sinners and saints together (as his father David had done, Ps. 37:22), sets the one over against the other, that we may see how happy the saints are, though they be oppressed, and how miserable the wicked are, though they be oppressors. Men are to be judged of as they stand with God, and as he judges of them, not as they stand in the world’s books. Those are in the right who are of God’s mind; and, if we be of his mind, we shall see, whatever pretence one sinner may have to envy another, that saints are so happy themselves that they have no reason at all to envy any sinner, though his condition be ever so prosperous. For, 1. Sinners are hated of God, but saints are beloved, Prov. 3:32. The froward sinners, who are continually going from-ward him, whose lives are a perverse contradiction to his will, are abomination to the Lord. He that hates nothing that he has made yet abhors those who have thus marred themselves; they are not only abominable in his sight, but an abomination. The righteous therefore have no reason to envy them, for they have his secret with them; they are his favourites; he has that communion with them which is a secret to the world and in which they have a joy that a stranger does not intermeddle with; he communicates to them the secret tokens of his love; his covenant is with them; they know his mind, and the meanings and intentions of his providence, better than others can. Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do? 2. Sinners are under the curse of God, they and their houses; saints are under his blessing, they and their habitation, Prov. 3:33. The wicked has a house, a strong and stately dwelling perhaps, but the curse of the Lord is upon it, it is in it, and, though the affairs of the family may prosper, yet the very blessings are curses, Mal. 2:2. There is leanness in the soul, when the body is fed to the full, Ps. 106:15. The curse may work silently and slowly; but it is as a fretting leprosy; it will consume the timber thereof and the stones thereof, Zech. 5:4; Hab. 2:11. The just have a habitation, a poor cottage (the word is used for sheep-cotes), a very mean dwelling; but God blesses it; he is continually blessing it, from the beginning of the year to the end of it. The curse or blessing of God is upon the house according as the inhabitants are wicked or godly; and it is certain that a blessed family, though poor, has no reason to envy a cursed family, though rich. 3. God puts contempt upon sinners, but shows respect to saints, Prov. 3:34. (1.) Those who exalt themselves shall certainly be abased: Surely he scorns the scorners. Those who scorn to submit to the discipline of religion, scorn to take God’s yoke upon them, scorn to be beholden to his grace, who scoff at godliness and godly people, and take a pleasure in bantering and exposing them, God will scorn them, and lay them open to scorn before all the world. He despises their impotent malice, sits in heaven and laughs at them, Ps. 2:4. He retaliates upon them (Ps. 18:26); he resists the proud. (2.) Those who humble themselves shall be exalted, for he gives grace to the lowly; he works that in them which puts honour upon them and for which they are accepted of God and approved of men. Those who patiently bear contempt from scornful men shall have respect from God and all good men, and then they have no reason to envy the scorners or to choose their ways. 4. The end of sinners will be everlasting shame, the end of saints endless honour, Prov. 3:35. (1.) Saints are wise men, and act wisely for themselves; for though their religion now wraps them up in obscurity, and lays them open to reproach, yet they are sure to inherit glory at last, the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. They shall have it, and have it by inheritance, the sweetest and surest tenure. God gives them grace (Prov. 3:34), and therefore they shall inherit glory, for grace is glory, 2 Cor. 3:18. It is glory begun, the earnest of it, Ps. 84:11. (2.) Sinners are fools, for they are not only preparing disgrace for themselves, but at the same time flattering themselves with a prospect of honour, as if they only took the way to be great. Their end will manifest their folly: Shame shall be their promotion. And it will be so much the more their punishment as it will come instead of their promotion; it will be all the promotion they must ever expect, that God will be glorified in their everlasting confusion.