Verses 1–13

Here we have,

I. The invitation which Solomon gives to his children to come and receive instruction from him (Prov. 4:1, 2): Hear, you children, the instruction of a father. That is, 1. “Let my own children, in the first place, receive and give good heed to those instructions which I set down for the use of others also.” Note, Magistrates and ministers, who are entrusted with the direction of larger societies, are concerned to take a more than ordinary care for the good instruction of their own families; from this duty their public work will by no means excuse them. This charity must begin at home, though it must not end there; for he that has not his children in subjection with all gravity, and does not take pains in their good education, how shall he do his duty as he ought to the church of God? 1 Tim. 3:4, 5. The children of those that are eminent for wisdom and public usefulness ought to improve in knowledge and grace in proportion to the advantages they derive from their relation to such parents. Yet it may be observed, to save both the credit and the comfort of those parents whose children do not answer the hopes that arose from their education, that Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was far from being either one of the wisest or one of the best. We have reason to think that thousands have got more good by Solomon’s proverbs than his own son did, to whom they seem to have been dedicated. 2. Let all young people, in the days of their childhood and youth, take pains to get knowledge and grace, for that is their learning age, and then their minds are formed and seasoned. He does not say, My children, but You children. We read but of one son that Solomon had of his own; but (would you think it?) he is willing to set up for a schoolmaster, and to teach other people’s children! for at that age there is most hope of success; the branch is easily bent when it is young and tender. 3. Let all that would receive instruction come with the disposition of children, though they be grown persons. Let all prejudices be laid aside, and the mind be as white paper. let them be dutiful, tractable, and self-diffident, and take the word as the word of a father, which comes both with authority and with affection. We must see it coming from God as our Father in heaven, to whom we pray, from whom we expect blessings, the Father of our spirits, to whom we ought to be in subjection, that we may live. We must look upon our teachers as our fathers, who love us and seek our welfare; and therefore though the instruction carry in it reproof and correction, for so the word signifies, yet we must bid it welcome. Now, (1.) To recommend it to us, we are told, not only that it is the instruction of a father, but that it is understanding, and therefore should be welcome to intelligent creatures. Religion has reason on its side, and we are taught it by fair reasoning. It is a law indeed (Prov. 4:2), but that law is founded upon doctrine, upon unquestionable principles of truth, upon good doctrine, which is not only faithful, but worthy of all acceptation. If we admit the doctrine, we cannot but submit to the law. (2.) To rivet it in us, we are directed to receive it as a gift, to attend to it with all diligence, to attend so as to know it, for otherwise we cannot do it, and not to forsake it by disowning the doctrine or disobeying the law.

II. The instructions he gives them. Observe,

1. How he came by these instructions; he had them from his parents, and teaches his children the same that they taught him, Prov. 4:3, 4. Observe, (1.) His parents loved him, and therefore taught him: I was my father’s son. David had many sons, but Solomon was his son indeed, as Isaac is called (Gen. 17:19) and for the same reason, because on him the covenant was entailed. He was his father’s darling, above any of his children. God had a special kindness for Solomon (the prophet called him Jedidiah, because the Lord loved him, 2 Sam. 12:25), and for that reason David had a special kindness for him, for he was a man after God’s own heart. If parents may ever love one child better than another, it must not be till it plainly appears that God does so. He was tender, and only beloved, in the sight of his mother. Surely there was a manifest reason for making such a distinction when both the parents made it. Now we see how they showed their love; they catechised him, kept him to his book, and held him to a strict discipline. Though he was a prince, and heir-apparent to the crown, yet they did not let him live at large; nay, therefore they tutored him thus. And perhaps David was the more strict with Solomon in his education because he had seen the ill effects of an undue indulgence in Adonijah, whom he had not crossed in any thing (1 Kgs. 1:6), as also in Absalom. (2.) What his parents taught him he teaches others. Observe, [1.] When Solomon was grown up he not only remembered, but took a pleasure in repeating, the good lessons his parents taught him when he was a child. He did not forget them, so deep were the impressions they made upon him. He was not ashamed of them, such a high value had he for them, nor did he look upon them as the childish things, the mean things, which, when he became a man, a king, he should put away, as a disparagement to him; much less did he repeat them: as some wicked children have done, to ridicule them, and make his companions merry with them, priding himself that he had got clear from grave lessons and restraints. [2.] Though Solomon was a wise man himself, and divinely inspired, yet, when he was to teach wisdom, he did not think it below him to quote his father and to make use of his words. Those that would learn well, and teach well, in religion, must not affect new-found notions and new-coined phrases, so as to look with contempt upon the knowledge and language of their predecessors; if we must keep to the good old way, why should we scorn the good old words? Jer. 6:16. [3.] Solomon, having been well educated by his parents, thought himself thereby obliged to give his children a good education, the same that his parents had given him; and this is one way in which we must requite our parents for the pains they took with us, even by showing piety at home, 1 Tim. 5:4. They taught us, not only that we might learn ourselves, but that we might teach our children, the good knowledge of God, Ps. 78:6. And we are false to a trust if we do not; for the sacred deposit of religious doctrine and law was lodged in our hands with a charge to transmit it pure and entire to those that shall come after us, 2 Tim. 2:2. [4.] Solomon enforces his exhortations with the authority of his father David, a man famous in his generation upon all accounts. Be it taken notice of, to the honour of religion, that the wisest and best men in every age have been most zealous, not only for the practice of it themselves, but for the propagating of it to others; and we should therefore continue in the things which we have learned, knowing of whom we have learned them, 2 Tim. 3:14.

2. What these instructions were, Prov. 4:4-13.

(1.) By way of precept and exhortation. David, in teaching his son, though he was a child of great capacity and quick apprehension, yet to show that he was in good earnest, and to affect his child the more with what he said, expressed himself with great warmth and importunity, and inculcated the same thing again and again. So children must be taught. Deut. 6:7; Thou shalt whet them diligently upon thy children. David, though he was a man of public business, and had tutors for his son, took all this pains with him himself.

[1.] He recommends to him his Bible and his catechism, as the means, his father’s words (Prov. 4:4), the words of his mouth (Prov. 4:5), his sayings (Prov. 4:10), all the good lessons he had taught him; and perhaps he means particularly the book of Psalms, many of which were Maschils—psalms of instruction, and two of them are expressly said to be for Solomon. These, and all his other words, Solomon must have an eye to. First, He must hear and receive them (Prov. 4:10), diligently attend to them, and imbibe them, as the earth drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, Heb. 6:7. God thus bespeaks our attention to his word: Hear, O my son! and receive my sayings. Secondly, He must hold fast the form of sound words which his father gave him (Prov. 4:4): Let thy heart retain my words; and except the word be hid in the heart, lodged in the will and affections, it will not be retained. Thirdly, He must govern himself by them: Keep my commandments, obey them, and that is the way to increase in the knowledge of them, John 7:17. Fourthly, He must stick to them and abide by them: “Decline not from the words of my mouth (Prov. 4:5), as fearing they will be too great a check upon thee, but take fast hold of instruction (Prov. 4:13), as being resolved to keep thy hold and never let it go.” Those that have a good education, though they strive to shake it off, will find it hang about them a great while, and, if it do not, their case is very sad.

[2.] He recommends to him wisdom and understanding as the end to be aimed at in the use of these means; that wisdom which is the principal wisdom, get that. Quod caput est sapientia eam acquire sapientiam—Be sure to mind that branch of wisdom which is the top branch of it, and that is the fear of God, Prov. 1:7. Junius and Tremellius. A principle of religion in the heart is the one thing needful; therefore, First, Get this wisdom, get this understanding, Prov. 4:5. And again, “Get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding, Prov. 4:7. Pray for it, take pains for it, give diligence in the use of all appointed means to attain it. Wait at wisdom’s gate, Prov. 8:34. Get dominion over thy corruptions, which are thy follies: get possession of wise principles and the habits of wisdom. Get wisdom by experience, get it above all thy getting; be more in care and take more pains to get this than to get the wealth of this world; whatever thou forgettest, get this, reckon it a great achievement, and pursue it accordingly.” True wisdom is God’s gift, and yet we are here commanded to get it, because God gives it to those that labour for it; yet, after all, we must not say, Our might and the power of our hand have gotten us this wealth. Secondly, Forget her not (Prov. 4:5), forsake her not (Prov. 4:6), let her not go (Prov. 4:13), but keep her. Those that have got this wisdom must take heed of losing it again by returning to folly: it is indeed a good part, that shall not be taken from us; but then we must take heed lest we throw it from us, as those do that forget it first, and let it slip out of their minds, and then forsake it and turn out of its good ways. That good thing which is committed to us we must keep, and not let it drop, through carelessness, nor suffer it to be forced from us, nor suffer ourselves to be wheedled out of it; never let go such a jewel. Thirdly, Love her (Prov. 4:6), and embrace her (Prov. 4:8), as worldly men love their wealth and set their hearts upon it. Religion should be very dear to us, dearer than any thing in this world; and, if we cannot reach to be great masters of wisdom, yet let us be true lovers of it; and what grace we have let us embrace it with a sincere affection, as those that admire its beauty. Fourthly, “Exalt her, Prov. 4:8. Always keep up high thoughts of religion, and do all thou canst to bring it into reputation, and maintain the credit of it among men. Concur with God in his purpose, which is to magnify the law and make it honourable, and do what thou canst to serve that purpose.” Let Wisdom’s children not only justify her, but magnify her, and prefer her before that which is dearest to them in this world. In honouring those that fear the Lord, though they are low in the world, and in regarding a poor wise man, we exalt wisdom.

(2.) By way of motive and inducement thus to labour for wisdom, and submit to the guidance of it, consider, [1.] It is the main matter, and that which ought to be the chief and continual care of every man in this life (Prov. 4:7): Wisdom is the principal thing; other things which we are solicitous to get and keep are nothing to it. It is the whole of man, Eccl. 12:13. It is that which recommends us to God, which beautifies the soul, which enables us to answer the end of our creation, to live to some good purpose in the world, and to get to heaven at last; and therefore it is the principal thing. [2.] It has reason and equity on its side (Prov. 4:11): “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom, and so it will be found to be at last. I have led thee, not in the crooked ways of carnal policy, which does wrong under colour of wisdom, but in right paths, agreeable to the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil.” The rectitude of the divine nature appears in the rectitude of all the divine laws. Observe, David not only taught his son by good instructions, but led him both by a good example and by applying general instructions to particular cases; so that nothing was wanting on his part to make him wise. [3.] It would be much for his own advantage: “If thou be wise and good, thou shalt be so for thyself.” First, “It will be thy life, thy comfort, thy happiness; it is what thou canst not live without:” Keep my commandments and live, Prov. 4:4. That of our Saviour agrees with this, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matt. 19:17. It is upon pain of death, eternal death, and in prospect of life, eternal life, that we are required to be religious. “Receive wisdom’s sayings, and the years of thy life shall be many (Prov. 4:10), as many in this world as Infinite Wisdom sees fit, and in the other world thou shalt live that life the years of which shall never be numbered. Keep her therefore, whatever it cost thee, for she is thy life, Prov. 4:13. All thy satisfaction will be found in this;” and a soul without true wisdom and grace is really a dead soul. Secondly, “It will be thy guard and guide, thy convoy and conductor, through all the dangers and difficulties of thy journey through this wilderness. Love wisdom, and cleave to her, and she shall preserve thee, she shall keep thee (Prov. 4:6) from sin, the worst of evils, the worst of enemies; she shall keep thee from hurting thyself, and then none else can hurt thee.” As we say, “Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee;” so, “Keep thy wisdom, and thy wisdom will keep thee.” It will keep us from straits and stumbling-blocks in the management of ourselves and our affairs, Prov. 4:12. 1. That our steps be not straitened when we go, that we bring not ourselves into such straits as David was in, 2 Sam. 24:14. Those that make God’s word their rule shall walk at liberty, and be at ease in themselves. 2. That our feet do not stumble when we run. If wise and good men be put upon sudden resolves, the certain rule of God’s word which they go by will keep them even then from stumbling upon any thing that may be pernicious. Integrity and uprightness will preserve us. Thirdly, “It will be thy honour and reputation (Prov. 4:8): Exalt wisdom (do thou but show thy good-will to her advancement) and though she needs not thy service she will abundantly recompense it, she shall promote thee, she shall bring thee to honour.” Solomon was to be a king, but his wisdom and virtue would be more his honour than his crown or purple; it was that for which all his neighbours had him so much in veneration; and no doubt, in his reign and David’s, wise and good men stood fairest for preferment. However, religion will, first or last, bring all those to honour that cordially embrace her; they shall be accepted of God, respected by all wise men, owned in the great day, and shall inherit everlasting glory. This he insists on (Prov. 4:9): “She shall give to thy head an ornament of grace in this world, shall recommend thee both to God and man, and in the other world a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee, a crown that shall never totter, a crown of glory that shall never wither.” That is the true honour which attends religion. Nobilitas sola est atique unica virtus—Virtue is the only nobility! David having thus recommended wisdom to his son, no marvel that when God bade him ask what he would he prayed, Lord, give me a wise and an understanding heart. We should make it appear by our prayers how well we are taught.