The scope of these verses is to show, 1. What great advantage true wisdom will be of to us; it will keep us from the paths of sin, which lead to ruin, and will therein do us a greater kindness than if it enriched us with all the wealth of the world. 2. What good use we should make of the wisdom God gives us; we must use it for our own guidance in the paths of virtue, and for the arming of us against temptations of every kind. 3. By what rules we may try ourselves whether we have this wisdom or no. This tree will be known by its fruits; if we be truly wise, it will appear by our care to avoid all evil company and evil practices.
This wisdom will be of use to us,
I. For our preservation from evil, from the evil of sin, and, consequently, from the evil of trouble that attends it.
1. In general (Prov. 2:10, 11), “When wisdom has entire possession of thee, it will keep thee.” And when has it an entire possession of us? (1.) When it has dominion over us. When it not only fills the head with notions, but enters into the heart and has a commanding power and influence upon that,—when it is upon the throne there, and gives law to the affections and passions,—when it enters into the heart as the leaven into the dough, to diffuse its relish there, and to change it into its own image—then it is likely to do us good. (2.) When we have delight in it, when knowledge becomes pleasant to the soul: “When thou beginnest to relish it as the most agreeable entertainment, and art subject to its rules, of choice, and with satisfaction,—when thou callest the practice of virtue, not a slavery and a task, but liberty and pleasure, and a life of serious godliness the most comfortable life a man can live in this world,—then thou wilt find the benefit of it.” Though its restraints should be in some respects unpleasant to the body, yet even those must be pleasant to the soul. When it has come to this, with us, discretion shall preserve us and keep us. God keeps the way of his saints (Prov. 2:8), by giving them discretion to keep out of harm’s way, to keep themselves that the wicked one touch them not. Note, A principle of grace reigning in the heart will be a powerful preservative both against corruptions within and temptations without, Eccl. 9:16, 18.
2. More particularly, wisdom will preserve us,
(1.) From men of corrupt principles, atheistical profane men, who make it their business to debauch young men’s judgments, and instil into their minds prejudices against religion and arguments for vice: “It will deliver thee from the way of the evil man (Prov. 2:12), and a blessed deliverance it will be, as from the very jaws of death, from the way in which he walks, and in which he would persuade thee to walk.” The enemy is spoken of as one (Prov. 2:12), an evil man, but afterwards as many (Prov. 2:13); there is a club, a gang of them, that are in confederacy against religion, and join hand in hand for the support of the devil’s kingdom and the interests of it. [1.] They have a spirit of contradiction to that which is good: They speak froward things; they say all they can against religion, both to show their own enmity to it and to dissuade others from it. They are advocates for Satan; they plead for Baal, and pervert the right ways of the Lord. How peevishly will profane wits argue for sin, and with what frowardness will they carp at the word of God! Wisdom will keep us either from conversing with such men or at least from being ensnared by them. [2.] They are themselves apostates from that which is good, and such are commonly the most malicious and dangerous enemies religion has, witness Julian (Prov. 2:13): They leave the paths of uprightness, which they were trained up in and had set out in, shake off the influences of their education, and break off the thread of their hopeful beginnings, to walk in the ways of darkness, in those wicked ways which hate the light, in which men are led blindfold by ignorance and error, and which lead men into utter darkness. The ways of sin are ways of darkness, uncomfortable and unsafe; what fools are those that leave the plain, pleasant, lightsome paths of uprightness, to walk in those ways! Ps. 82:5; 1 John 2:11. [3.] They take a pleasure in sin, both in committing it themselves and in seeing others commit it (Prov. 2:14): They rejoice in an opportunity to do evil, and in the accomplishment and success of any wicked project. It is sport to fools to do mischief; nor is any sight more grateful to them than to see the frowardness of the wicked, to see those that are hopeful drawn into the ways of sin, and then to see them hardened and confirmed in those ways. They are pleased if they can discern that the devil’s kingdom gets ground (see Rom. 1:32), such a height of impiety have they arrived at. [4.] They are resolute in sin (Prov. 2:15): Their ways are crooked, a great many windings and turnings to escape the pursuit of their convictions and break the force of them; some sly excuse, some subtle evasion or other, their deceitful hearts furnish them with, for the strengthening of their hands in their wickedness; and in the crooked mazes of that labyrinth they secure themselves from the arrests of God’s word and their own consciences; for they are froward in their paths, that is, they are resolved to go on in them, whatever is said against it. Every wise man will shun the company of such as these.
(2.) From women of corrupt practices. The former lead to spiritual wickednesses, the lusts of the unsanctified mind; these lead to fleshly lusts, which defile the body, that living temple, but withal war against the soul. The adulteress is here called the strange woman, because no man that has any wisdom or goodness in him will have any acquaintance with her; she is to be shunned by every Israelite as if she were a heathen, and a stranger to that sacred commonwealth. A strange woman indeed! utterly estranged from all principles of reason, virtue, and honour. It is a great mercy to be delivered from the allurements of the adulteress, considering, [1.] How false she is. Who will have any dealings with those that are made up of treachery? She is a strange woman; for, First, She is false to him whom she entices. She speaks fair, tells him how much she admires him above any man, and what a kindness she has for him; but she flatters with her words; she has no true affection for him, nor any desire of his welfare, any more than Delilah had of Samson’s. All she designs is to pick his pocket and gratify a base lust of her own. Secondly, She is false to her husband, and violates the sacred obligation she lies under to him. He was the guide of her youth; by marrying him she chose him to be so, and submitted herself to his guidance, with a promise to attend him only, and forsake all others. But she has forsaken him, and therefore it cannot be thought that she should be faithful to any one else; and whoever entertains her is partaker with her in her falsehood. Thirdly, She is false to God himself: She forgets the covenant of her God, the marriage-covenant (Prov. 2:17), to which God is not only a witness, but a party, for, he having instituted the ordinance, both sides vow to him to be true to each other. It is not her husband only that she sins against, but her God, who will judge whoremongers and adulterers because they despise the oath and break the covenant, Ezek. 17:18; Mal. 2:14. [2.] How fatal it will prove to those that fall in league with her, Prov. 2:18, 19. Let the sufferings of others be our warnings. Take heed of the sin of whoredom; for, First, The ruin of those who are guilty of it is certain and unavoidable, if they do not repent. It is a sin that has a direct tendency to the killing of the soul, the extinguishing of all good affections and dispositions in it, and the exposing of it to the wrath and curse of God and the sword of his justice. Those that live in forbidden pleasures are dead while they live. Let discretion preserve every man, not only from the evil woman, but from the evil house, for the house inclines to death; it is in the road that leads directly to eternal death; and her paths unto Rephaim, to the giants (so some read it), the sinners of the old world, who, living in luxury and excess of riot, were cut down out of time, and their foundation was overthrown with a flood. Our Lord Jesus deters us from sinful pleasures with the consideration of everlasting torments which follow them. Where the worm dies not, nor is the fire quenched. See Matt. 5:28, 29. Secondly, Their repentance and recovery are extremely hazardous: None, or next to none, that go unto her, return again. It is very rare that any who are caught in this snare of the devil recover themselves, so much is the heart hardened, and the mind blinded, by the deceitfulness of this sin. Having once lost their hold of the paths of life, they know not how to take hold of them again, but are perfectly besotted and bewitched with those base lusts. Many learned interpreters think that this caution against the strange woman, besides the literal sense, is to be understood figuratively, as a caution, 1. Against idolatry, which is spiritual whoredom. Wisdom will keep thee from all familiarity with the worshippers of images, and all inclination to join with them, which had for many ages been of such pernicious consequence to Israel and proved so to Solomon himself. 2. Against the debauching of the intellectual powers and faculties of the soul by the lusts and appetites of the body. Wisdom will keep thee from being captivated by the carnal mind, and from subjecting the spirit to the dominion of the flesh, that notorious adulteress which forsakes its guide, violates the covenant of our God, which inclines to death, and which, when it has got an undisturbed dominion, makes the case of the soul desperate.
II. This wisdom will be of use to guide and direct us in that which is good (Prov. 2:20): That thou mayest walk in the way of good men. We must avoid the way of the evil man, and the strange woman, in order that we may walk in good ways; we must cease to do evil, in order that we may learn to do well. Note, 1. There is a way which is peculiarly the way of good men, the way in which good men, as such, and as far as they have really been such, have always walked. 2. It will be our wisdom to walk in that way, to ask for the good old way and walk therein, Jer. 6:16; Heb. 6:12; 12:1. And we must not only walk in that way awhile, but we must keep it, keep in it, and never turn aside out of it: The paths of the righteous are the paths of life, which all that are wise, having taken hold of, will keep their hold of. “That thou mayest imitate those excellent persons, the patriarchs and prophets (so bishop Patrick paraphrases it), and be preserved in the paths of those righteous men who followed after them.” We must not only choose our way in general by the good examples of the saints, but must also take directions from them in the choice of our particular paths; observe the track, and go forth by the footsteps of the flock. Two reasons are here given why we should thus choose:—(1.) Because men’s integrity will be their establishment, Prov. 2:21. It will be the establishment, [1.] Of their persons: The upright shall dwell in the land, peaceably and quietly, as long as they live; and their uprightness will contribute to it, as it settles their minds, guides their counsels, gains them the good-will of their neighbours, and entitles them to God’s special favour. [2.] Of their families: The perfect, in their posterity, shall remain in it. They shall dwell and remain for ever in the heavenly Canaan, of which the earthly one was but a type. (2.) Because men’s iniquity will be their destruction, Prov. 2:22. See what becomes of the wicked, who choose the way of the evil man; they shall be cut off, not only from heaven hereafter and all hopes of that, but from the earth now, on which they set their affections, and in which they lay up their treasure. They think to take root in it, but they and their families shall be rooted out of it, in judgment to them, but in mercy to the earth. There is a day coming which shall leave them neither root nor branch, Mal. 4:1. Let that wisdom then enter into our hearts, and be pleasant to our souls, which will keep us out of a way that will end thus.