A reproof enters more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.…
We may take ver. 10 as an introduction to what follows. Exhortations are to be given, and the preacher would prepare us to receive them. On the sensitive mind the censure of the good makes a deeper impression than a hundred blows on the back of the fool. Sincerity, love of truth and tender sympathy, become the exhorter, and humble docility the object of his warnings or rebukes. "Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness" (Psalm 141:5).
I. THE CONTENTIOUS SPIRIT. (Ver. 11.)
1. His temper. He seeks rebellion. In private life he may be the man who revolts from the established usages of society, delights in singularity for its own sake, in defying opinion, showing disrespect to names of authority. In public life he may become the heartless demagogue and pest of the commonwealth.
2. His doom. A cruel angel shall be sent against him by God; that is, generally, his offence will be visited upon him severely. The curse upon the contentious spirit is the counterpart of the great evangelical blessing on the peacemakers, who shall be called "the children of God."
3. His dangerous qualities. (Ver. 12.) Rage is the principle of his action, the motive of his life. To irritate him, to thwart him, is like bringing on one's self the fierce attack of the bear robbed of her whelps. Rage united with intelligence is the most fearful combination of deadly force known in the world. From so dread a picture we turn with the prayer, "From hatred and malice, good Lord, deliver us!" "Oh, may we live the peaceful life!"
II. THE UNGRATEFUL MAN. (Ver. 13.)
1. His conduct. He requites good with evil. As there is no virtue so natural, so spontaneous, so pleasurable, as gratitude, so there is no mere negative vice so odious as ingratitude. But the positive reversal of gratitude in returning evil for good - for this there is no one word in our (nor probably in any) language. It is a wickedness indeed unutterable.
2. His doom is punishment from God. And the severity of the punishment teaches by contrast how dear is gratitude to God. As evil shall ever haunt the house of the dark rebel against light and love, so shall joy and peace attend the steps of the peaceful child of God.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF MISCHIEF INCALCULABLE. (Ver. 14.) A homely figure impresses the truth in a way not to be forgotten. Similarly, James compares the progress of mischief to the sparks which may be easily fanned into a great conflagration (James 3:5). How great the service that may be rendered by those who, in the interests of peace, at once trample out the sparks or seal up the avenues of the flood. These rules are good for the avoidance of strife. Consider:
1. Whether the dispute is not about. words rather than things.
2. Whether we really understand, the subject.
3. Whether it is worth disputing about.
IV. MORAL INDIFFERENCE. (Ver. 15.) To speak the bad man fair, to justify or excuse his evil, and to censure or criticize or condemn the good, from prudence or other motive, - this shows a blindness to moral distinctions, a wilful insensibility which is incompatible with religion, and incurs the deep disapproval and judgment of Jehovah. We have examples in Ezra 4:1-16; Acts 24:1-9. Religion teaches us to distinguish between things that differ; if we have not learnt that lesson, we have learned nothing. If, having learned it, we disregard it, our profession of religion becomes converted into an hypocrisy and an abomination. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.