We have heard what Christ has to say, to engage our affections to God and godliness, and one would think the whole world should go after him; but here we are told how industrious the tempter is to seduce unwary souls into the paths of sin, and with the most he gains his point, and Wisdom’s courtship is not effectual. Now observe,
I. Who is the tempter—a foolish woman, Folly herself, in opposition to Wisdom. Carnal sensual pleasure I take to be especially meant by this foolish woman (Prov. 9:13); for that is the great enemy to virtue and inlet to vice; that defiles and debauches the mind, stupefies conscience, and puts out the sparks of conviction, more than any thing else. This tempter is here described to be, 1. Very ignorant: She is simple and knows nothing, that is, she has no sufficient solid reason to offer; where she gets dominion in a soul she works out all the knowledge of holy things; they are lost and forgotten. Whoredom, and wine, and new wine, take away the heart; they besot men, and make fools of them. (2.) Very importunate. The less she has to offer that is rational the more violent and pressing she is, and carries the day often by dint of impudence. She is clamorous and noisy (Prov. 9:13), continually haunting young people with her enticements. She sits at the door of her house (Prov. 9:14), watching for a prey; not as Abraham at his tent-door, seeking an opportunity to do good. She sits on a seat (on a throne, so the word signifies) in the high places of the city, as if she had authority to give law, and we were all debtors to the flesh, to live after the flesh, and as if she had reputation, and were in honour, and thought worthy of the high places of the city; and perhaps she gains upon many more by pretending to be fashionable than by pretending to be agreeable. “Do not all persons of rank and figure in the world” (says she) “give themselves a greater liberty than the strict laws of virtue allow; and why shouldst thou humble thyself so far as to be cramped by them?” Thus the tempter affects to seem both kind and great.
II. Who are the tempted—young people who have been well educated; these she will triumph most in being the ruin of. Observe, 1. What their real character is; they are passengers that go right on their ways (Prov. 9:15), that have been trained up in the paths of religion and virtue and set out very hopefully and well, that seemed determined and designed for good, and are not (as that young man, Prov. 7:8) going the way to her house. Such as these she has a design upon, and lays snares for, and uses all her arts, all her charms, to pervert them; if they go right on, and will not look towards her, she will call after them, so urgent are these temptations. (2.) How she represents them. She calls them simple and wanting understanding, and therefore courts them to her school, that they may be cured of the restraints and formalities of their religion. This is the method of the stage (which is too close an exposition of this paragraph), where the sober young man, that has been virtuously educated, is the fool in the play, and the plot is to make him seven times more a child of hell than his profane companions, under colour of polishing and refining him, and setting him up for a wit and a beau. What is justly charged upon sin and impiety (Prov. 9:4), that it is folly, is here very unjustly retorted upon the ways of virtue; but the day will declare who are the fools.
III. What the temptation is (Prov. 9:17): Stolen waters are sweet. It is to water and bread, whereas Wisdom invites to the beasts she has killed and the wine she has mingled; however, bread and water are acceptable enough to those that are hungry and thirsty; and this is pretended to be more sweet and pleasant than common, for it is stolen water and bread eaten in secret, with a fear of being discovered. The pleasures of prohibited lusts are boasted of as more relishing than those of prescribed love; and dishonest gain is preferred to that which is justly gotten. Now this argues, not only a bold contempt, but an impudent defiance, 1. Of God’s law, in that the waters are the sweeter for being stolen and come at by breaking through the hedge of the divine command. Nitimur in vetitum—We are prone to what is forbidden. This spirit of contradiction we have from our first parents, who thought the forbidden tree of all others a tree to be desired. 2. Of God’s curse. The bread is eaten in secret, for fear of discovery and punishment, and the sinner takes a pride in having so far baffled his convictions, and triumphed over them, that, notwithstanding that fear, he dares commit the sin, and can make himself believe that, being eaten in secret, it shall never be discovered or reckoned for. Sweetness and pleasantness constitute the bait; but, by the tempter’s own showing, even that is so absurd, and has such allays, that it is a wonder how it can have any influence upon men that pretend to reason.
IV. An effectual antidote against the temptation, in a few words, Prov. 9:18. He that so far wants understanding as to be drawn aside by these enticements is led on, ignorantly, to his own inevitable ruin: He knows not, will not believe, does not consider, the tempter will not let him know, that the dead are there, that those who live in pleasure are dead while they live, dead in trespasses and sins. Terrors attend these pleasures like the terrors of death itself. The giants are there—Rephaim. It was this that ruined the sinners of the old world, the giants that were in the earth in those days. Her guests, that are treated with those stolen waters, are not only in the highway to hell and at the brink of it, but they are already in the depths of hell, under the power of sin, led captive by Satan at his will, and ever and anon lashed by the terrors of their own consciences, which are a hell upon earth The depths of Satan are the depths of hell. Remorseless sin is remediless ruin; it is the bottomless pit already. Thus does Solomon show the hook; those that believe him will not meddle with the bait.