Solomon, having warned us not to do evil, here teaches us how to do well. It is not enough for us to shun the occasions of sin, but we must study the methods of duty.
I. We must have a continual regard to the word of God and endeavour that it may be always ready to us.
1. The sayings of wisdom must be our principles by which we must govern ourselves, our monitors to warn us of duty and danger; and therefore, (1.) We must receive them readily: “Incline thy ear to them (Prov. 4:20); humbly bow to them; diligently listen to them.” The attentive hearing of the word of God is a good sign of a work of grace begun in the heart and a good means of carrying it on. It is to be hoped that those are resolved to do their duty who are inclined to know it. (2.) We must retain them carefully (Prov. 4:21); we must lay them before us as our rule: “Let them not depart from thy eyes; view them, review them, and in every thing aim to conform to them.” We must lodge them within us, as a commanding principle, the influences of which are diffused throughout the whole man: “Keep them in the midst of thy heart, as things dear to thee, and which thou art afraid of losing.” Let the word of God be written in the heart, and that which is written there will remain.
2. The reason why we must thus make much of the words of wisdom is because they will be both food and physic to us, like the tree of life, Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:12. Those that seek and find them, find and keep them, shall find in them, (1.) Food: For they are life unto those that find them, Prov. 4:22. As the spiritual life was begun by the word as the instrument of it, so by the same word it is still nourished and maintained. We could not live without it; we may by faith live upon it. (2.) Physic. They are health to all their flesh, to the whole man, both body and soul; they help to keep both in good plight. They are health to all flesh, so the LXX. There is enough to cure all the diseases of this distempered world. They are a medicine to all their flesh (so the word is), to all their corruptions, for they are called flesh, to all their grievances, which are as thorns in the flesh. There is in the word of God a proper remedy for all our spiritual maladies.
II. We must keep a watchful eye and a strict hand upon all the motions of our inward man, Prov. 4:23. Here is, 1. A great duty required by the laws of wisdom, and in order to our getting and preserving wisdom: Keep thy heart with all diligence. God, who gave us these souls, gave us a strict charge with them: Man, woman, keep thy heart; take heed to thy spirit, Deut. 4:9. We must maintain a holy jealousy of ourselves, and set a strict guard, accordingly, upon all the avenues of the soul; keep our hearts from doing hurt and getting hurt, from being defiled by sin and disturbed by trouble; keep them as our jewel, as our vineyard; keep a conscience void of offence; keep out bad thoughts; keep up good thoughts; keep the affections upon right objects and in due bounds. Keep them with all keepings (so the word is); there are many ways of keeping things—by care, by strength, by calling in help, and we must use them all in keeping our hearts; and all little enough, so deceitful are they, Jer. 17:9. Or above all keepings; we must keep our hearts with more care and diligence than we keep any thing else. We must keep our eyes (Job 31:1), keep our tongues (Ps. 34:13), keep our feet (Eccl. 5:1), but, above all, keep our hearts. 2. A good reason given for this care, because out of it are the issues of life. Out of a heart well kept will flow living issues, good products, to the glory of God and the edification of others. Or, in general, all the actions of the life flow from the heart, and therefore keeping that is making the tree good and healing the springs. Our lives will be regular or irregular, comfortable or uncomfortable, according as our hearts are kept or neglected.
III. We must set a watch before the door of our lips, that we offend not with out tongue (Prov. 4:24): Put away from thee a froward mouth and perverse lips. Our hearts being naturally corrupt, out of them a great deal of corrupt communication is apt to come, and therefore we must conceive a great dread and detestation of all manner of evil words, cursing, swearing, lying, slandering, brawling, filthiness, and foolish talking, all which come from a froward mouth and perverse lips, that will not be governed either by reason or religion, but contradict both, and which are as unsightly and ill-favoured before God as a crooked distorted mouth drawn awry is before men. All manner of tongue sins, we must, by constant watchfulness and stedfast resolution, put from us, put far from us, abstaining from all words that have an appearance of evil and fearing to learn any such words.
IV. We must make a covenant with our eyes: “Let them look right on and straight before thee, Prov. 4:24. Let the eye be fixed and not wandering; let it not rove after every thing that presents itself, for then it will be diverted form good and ensnared in evil. Turn it from beholding vanity; let thy eye be single and not divided; let thy intentions be sincere and uniform, and look not asquint at any by-end.” We must keep our eye upon our Master, and be careful to approve ourselves to him; keep our eye upon our rule, and conform to that; keep our eye upon our mark, the prize of the high calling, and direct all towards that. Oculum in metam—The eye upon the goal.
V. We must act considerately in all we do (Prov. 4:26): Ponder the path of thy feet, weigh it (so the word is); “put the word of God in one scale, and what thou hast done, or art about to do, in the other, and see how they agree; be nice and critical in examining whether thy way be good before the Lord and whether it will end well.” We must consider our past ways and examine what we have done, and our present ways, what we are doing, whither we are going, and see that we walk circumspectly. It concerns us to consider what are the duties and what the difficulties, what are the advantages and what the dangers, of our way, that we may act accordingly. “Do nothing rashly.”
VI. We must act with steadiness, caution, and consistency: “Let all thy ways be established (Prov. 4:26) and be not unstable in them, as the double-minded man is; halt not between two, but go on in an even uniform course of obedience; turn not to the right hand not to the left, for there are errors on both hands, and Satan gains his point if he prevails to draw us aside either way. Be very careful to remove thy foot from evil; take heed of extremes, for in them there is evil, and let thy eyes look right on, that thou mayest keep the golden mean.” Those that would approve themselves wise must always be watchful.