Proverbs 15:1

I. MILDNESS AND VIOLENCE. (Ver. 1.) The soft answer is like the water which quenches, and the bitter retort, the "grievous words," like the oil which increases the conflagration of wrath. As scriptural examples of the former, may be mentioned Jacob with Esau (Genesis 32, 33), Aaron with Moses (Leviticus 10:16-20), the Reubenites with their brethren (Joshua 22:15-34), Gideon with the men of Ephraim (Judges 8:1-3), David with Saul (1 Samuel 24:9-21), Abigail with David (1 Samuel 25:23-32). And of the latter, Jephthah (Judges 12:1-6), Saul (1 Samuel 20:30-31), Nabal (1 Samuel 25:10-13), Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:12-15), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39).

II. THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF WISE SPEECH AND THE REPULSIVENESS OF FOOLISH TALK. (Ver. 2.) If this verse be more correctly rendered, it means that the tongue of the wise makes knowledge lovely, while the mouth of the fool foams with folly. The speech of the former is apt to time and place - coherent - and wins upon the listener. The latter is unseasonable, confused, nonsensical, repellent. Notice the tact of St. Paul's addresses (Acts 17:22, 23; Acts 26:27-29), and what he says about foolish babbling in 2 Timothy 2:16-18; Titus 1:10.

III. MODERATION AND EXTRAVAGANCE. (Ver. 4.) A calm and measured tone should be cultivated, as well as a pure and peaceful heart; these mutually react upon one another. The extravagant, immoderate, licentious tongue is "like a blustering wind among the boughs of the trees, rushing and tearing the life and spirit of a man's self and others" (Bishop Hail). Beware of exaggeration.

IV. SPEECH A DIFFUSIVE INFLUENCE. (Ver. 7.) The lips of the wise scatter seeds of good around them; not so with the heart and lips of the fool. "They trade only with the trash of the world, not with the commerce of substantial knowledge." The preaching of the gospel is compared to the scattering of good seed, and evil activity is the sowing of tares in the world field (Matthew 13:24, etc.). - J.







A soft answer turneth away wrath.
There are three parties whose wrath it may concern us to appease by mild and submissive language.

I. THE WRATH OF GOD. He is provoked every day by the crying sins of an ungodly world, and would quickly break out as a devouring fire upon it, but that there are, and always have been in it, humble and holy men, who have been much given to confession and prayer. Illustrate by Moses, the prophets, and Daniel as intercessors in their day. See also submissive response of Nineveh to the warning of Jonah.

II. THE FURY OF A TROUBLED CONSCIENCE. It is allayed by a soft answer, i.e., by obviating the terrors of God's threatenings with a just display of His infinite mercies.

III. THE INFLUENCE WHICH AN OFFENDED SERVANT S CARRIAGE HATH UPON HIS OFFENDED MASTER. If the offender, when reproved, returns a mild and yielding answer to his master, he commonly assuages his wrath and prevents the further progress of it. But if he gives saucy and contemptuous language upon such occasions, he exasperates his master's passion, and renders his own offence much more provoking than it was before. Two things are advised in this text —

1. That an answer be made.

2. That it be ingenuous.It is not wise to stand mute, nor to delay answer, but the answer should be soft and temperate. Illustrate ease of David and Nabal (1 Samuel 25.). Ingenuous submission does not always succeed, because it does not always meet with ingenuous and placable minds on the other side. Sometimes, too, the offender is a mere reprobate, who does but flatter with his tongue. Some commentators interpret the text as a common maxim of peaceable conversation, teaching us to avoid all unnecessary contentions which spring from pride, ambition, emulation, and a remorse, wrathful and splenetic nature. He that is desirous to live at peace in the world must consider that both himself and other men have many infirmities; and that, in matter of right and wrong, other people will take the liberty to differ from his opinion, and will sometimes contradict and thwart him, even when he has the clearest truth and reason on his side. He must expect to meet with pride, self-love, and confidence in others; and he must not imagine that his own conversation is always free from the influence of such irregular passions. Therefore he must resolve to bear reproof and opposition with patience, because it is quite possible that he may deserve it

; and if he does not, those who converse with him may think so. He who would save himself and others much trouble and contention must not be too apt to censure and find fault with things when they are tolerably well. The practice of the text is not every man's talent. The weakness of our minds, or the warmth of our temper, commonly making it a difficult task. David was some years in learning the due observance of this lesson. Grievous words are inconsistent with good policy, and contrary to true religion. The Lord Jesus never spake unadvisedly with His lips, so He calls upon all His disciples to learn of Him this lesson of meekness. It is almost always of advantage to give soft answers.

(W. Reading, M.A.)

I. ILLUSTRATE THE TRUTH OF THIS PROPOSITION BY SOME EXAMPLES FROM SCRIPTURE HISTORY (Genesis 13:8, 9; Genesis 32:3-5; Judges 8:2, 3; 1 Samuel 1:15, 16; 1 Samuel 26:18-20).

II. ENDEAVOUR TO ACCOUNT FOR THE PREVALENCE OF MILDNESS OVER WRATH FROM THE CONSIDERATION OF THE PASSIONS CONCERNED. Obstinacy of temper is increased by opposition, as much as it is abated by yielding. Thus says the son of Sirach, "He that striveth with a man of tongue heaps wood upon his fire." Though we have truth on our side, though we are able to support that truth by the most irrefragable arguments, yet if these are pressed with scorn and bitterness their reasonableness will not so much enforce as their virulence disparage them. To conclude:

1. Acquiescence and submission in our language and manner, as far as truth and generosity of spirit will allow, is an argument of our prudence; it is as profitable to society as it is acceptable to God, as it captivates the hearts of men, and as it consequently contributes to our own honour, quiet, and safety.

2. It is an argument of the politeness of our education, for none but spirits unreclaimed by civil converse vent themselves in boisterous language.

3. But it is not only an argument of prudence and politeness, but of magnanimity; the greatest man is never more triumphant than when he overcomes insolence with humility, and wrath with meekness.

(H. Usher, D.D.)

A kind, gentle, patient, peaceful answer to an angry, loud, rude word, turns away wrath, sends it off so that it passes by you like an arrow glancing off a shield. If anybody says a rude or angry word to you, and you answer in the same way, you are adding fire to fire, you are helping to make a bad thing worse, you are multiplying one evil by two — the very worst part of arithmetic. But "a soft answer" is like water to fire; it helps to put the flame out. This is what the firemen do. If you give a soft answer to angry words you will be one of God's firemen, you will have helped to put out a fire that might have done great harm. It is very hard to speak softly to people sometimes, very hard indeed. But it is worth while learning to do it; and though hard, like most other good things, it is not too hard. It can be managed. How? First of all by making up your mind to do it, and then setting to work to practise the art of soft speaking, and asking God to help you and give you strength. It needs no courage to be angry and loud and rude. Bullies and cowards have always plenty of angry words at their command. Brave boys do not brag or threaten, and the bravest thing of all is patience and self-mastery. Illustrate from the patience of the Lord Jesus in the judgment hall and on the Cross. The highest courage is the Cross of Christ. You will prove yourselves truly brave, not when you strike back, but when rising above the temptation you master yourselves and those around you.

(J. M. Gibbon.)

1. "A soft answer" is a Christian answer. It exemplifies the Spirit of Christ. "When reviled He reviled not again."

2. "A soft answer" is a fitting answer. It is a sensible thing to do. As a matter of mere policy it is the wisest course a man can take.

3. "A soft answer" is the most effective answer, the only effective answer in the way of good results. Gentle words, a forgiving spirit will do what hard blows and angry epithets and a belligerent attitude never did and never can accomplish.

4. "A soft answer" is the evidence, the test, of a man's moral character.

(J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

Men who manage men must be self-controlled. If liable to outbursts of passion they cannot deal with the anger of other men. Men who are masters of themselves may become masters of mankind. And as in nature the greatest and most beneficial forces are silent, so in society the mightiest men are the gentle-spirited. We do not hear the grass grow; the light comes stealing into our room, we do not hear its footfall. It is the angry voices of nature which tell of disaster, as in the earthquake, the tempest, the thunderstorm, and the flood. It is not the rain sweeping down the hillside, carrying soil and crop before it, but the gentle shower that fructifies the land. And so the meek-hearted "shall inherit the earth " as uncrowned kings. The peacemakers are the true sons of God, full of independence and manly energy, yet speaking softly like a clear stream rippling through the green, flowering meadows. Speak gently, yet truly, and thus win the world for God.

(W. Unsworth.)

Understand by "a soft answer," not a reply marked by intellectual feebleness, but one inspired by the very spirit of modesty and graciousness. Such an answer cannot be returned as a mere art, because the wrath to which it replies excites natural surprise and indignation, and may be supposed to necessitate a communication in its own key and temper. The soft answer is unique by contrast. It is so unexpected, so unlike the surrounding circumstances, so much more than what is generally regarded as human, that the man to whom it is addressed is astounded as if by a miracle. Only he can give soft answer who has a soft heart — that is to say, the answer is not a mere art or trick of the vocal organs, it is the direct and blessed creation of God. A soft answer may appear to be spiritless, but in reality it expresses a greater energy than is possible to ill-regulated and resentful wrath. Light is mightier than lightning. Thunder is harmless; it is a mere collision and crashing together of electric clouds. Meekness endures longer than wrath, has greater staying power, feeds itself upon the very grace of God, and is sustained through long watching and much suffering. Wrath fumes and splutters, and brings upon itself swift destruction. Wrath is altogether unprofitable; it convinces no one; it is mere explosion ending in impotence and humiliation. Grievous words stir up anger as certainly as an effect follows its cause. They lead to recrimination, resentment, self-defence, and self-assertion. For the moment they seem to be smart and spirited, betraying dignified temper and a haughty courage, but in reality they are nothing more than proofs of littleness, spitefulness, chagrin, or other emotion lying on the same degraded line.

(J. Parker, D.D.)

We greatly need an instrument capable of turning away wrath, for there is much wrath in the world to be turned away. If all our anger were grief for sin, and grief for sin our only danger, the emotion would neither displease God nor disturb men. Most Of the anger that prevails is sinful and dangerous. We are on dangerous ground when we are contending in our own cause. A man may indeed, through Divine grace, rule his spirit aright even there; but it is his wisdom to be jealous of himself. Self-love ties a bandage over the eyes of the understanding, and then leads the blind astray. In man as he is, a sally of wrath from another seems to produce a similar sally in return, as naturally as a mountain-side gives back an echo of the sound that strikes it. Wrath generates grievous words, and grievous words aggravate the wrath that produced them. The most important practical rule, for our guidance under provocation, is to consider, not how hard a blow we can deal in return, consistently with a character for Christian meekness, but how far can we yield without being faithless to truth and to God. In view of our own corruption, and the temptations that abound, a leaning to this side seems the safest for a Christian name. But when all rules fail to meet the case, let us have recourse to the great Example. Jesus is God's answer to the wrath of man. The answer is soft, and yet it is the greatest power that can be applied — the only power that will prevail to turn the wrath away, and win the wrathful back to love.

(W. Arnot, D.D.)

Bad temper causes more suffering than the modified severity with which we judge it would imply. It is in a home what toothache is in the body: the pain is insufferable and yet it is not treated as serious. A passionate man or woman spreads a pervading sense of irritation in the house or in the workshop, and all the other occupants of the place are as if they dwelt in a country subject to earth-quakes; life for them is divided between anxiety to avoid the explosion and a painful effort to repair its devastations. We are not severe enough on these faults of temper in ourselves or in others; we are too prone to excuse them on the ground of temperament, as if we were no more responsible for outbreaks of passion than for the colour of our hair or the tone of our complexion. Probably here the plea will be urged that we cannot help our temper, and it may be said, the suffering which it brings upon us is the best proof that it is an infirmity rather than a vice. Now this excuse cannot be allowed to pass; a certain good bishop on one occasion hearing it urged, in extenuation of a man's conduct, that he had such an unfortunate temper, exclaimed, "Temper, why temper is nine-tenths of Christianity!" If we are not to be blamed for bad temper, then there is no fault or defect or vice which we cannot shift off our own shoulders and lay to the charge of our constitution. But our constitution is no excuse for sin; the most that can be urged is that if we are constitutionally inclined to any particular sin we must seek for a special strength to fortify us against it. In Christ Jesus are forces, moral and spiritual, strong enough to control the most uncontrollable rage and to soothe the most irritable temper; and as we can point to no other power which is sufficient for such a change, so few things manifest so strikingly the blessed presence of Christ in the heart as the softened and gentle temper, the removal of all those explosive elements which before He entered were constantly causing trouble and suffering and alarm.

(R. F. Horton, D.D.)

I. THE GRACIOUS POWER OF "A SOFT ANSWER." It is not intended here to state a bare philosophical fact, the result of observation and experience. Here is a truth intimately connected with man's present and future peace. In our intercourse with men our object is liable to be misinterpreted, and our motive to be misconceived. There arise occasions when indignation seems to acquire the attribute of a duty, possibly of a religious duty. Beware of giving way to a hasty spirit. A little delay would have calmed your spirit; a little inquiry might have produced an explanation.

II. THE GRIEVOUS POWER OF AN ANGRY ANSWER. It is not a light matter to be warned that we bear about within us a fire, which needs only to be quickened and blown up by the breath of man's mouth to produce in its ravages upon ourselves and others the most cruel and disastrous issues. This is the end at which we must aim, and after which we must never cease to strive and pray until it has been attained, that the law of God may reign supreme in all our hearts, enlightening the understanding, inclining the will, subduing all unhallowed passions, purifying and sanctifying even lawful affections, and "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Forbearance is oftentimes a difficult and a painful duty, the incentive to retaliation quick and urgent. At such times we need to prove the power of prayer.

(Geo. Spence, D.C.L.)

Few writers, ancient or modern, say so much about words as Solomon. "Words," says Richter, "are often everywhere as the minute hands of the soul, more important than even the hour hands of action."

I. THE PACIFYING AND IRRITATING POWER OF WORDS.

1. The pacifying power of words. "A soft answer turneth away wrath." Several things are implied in this short passage.

(1)The existence of anger against you.

(2)The importance of turning away this anger.

(3)There is an effective method of turning away this wrath.That is a "soft answer." A response free from excitement and resentment, uttered in the low tone of magnanimous forbearance.

2. The irritating power of words. "Grievous words stir up anger."

II. THE RIGHT AND THE WRONG USE OF WORDS.

1. The right use of words. "The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright."

2. The wrong use of words. The fool's heart is full of folly, and folly flows from his lips. Foolish words are either words without meaning, empty jargon, or words of bad meaning, the vehicles of filth, insubordination, and blasphemy.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

It was Abigail's gentle apology that disarmed David's fury; and Gideon's mild and modest answer stilled the hot and hasty Ephraimites. Lay but a flint upon a pillow and you break it easily, but hard to hard will never do the deed. It is not the vieing one angry word with another; grievous words stir up strife — harsh and angry, words cast oil upon the flame; set the passions afloat, there is no hope, not one wise word to be expected.

(J. Spencer.)

There is sound philosophy, as well as religion, in the advice of a cheerful man to his surly neighbour, who had just given a cross answer to the inquiries of some children who had lost their way: — "Jim, a man's tongue is like a cat's. It is either a piece of velvet, or a piece of sand-paper, just as he chooses to use it and to make it; and I declare you always seem to use your tongue for sand-paper. Try the velvet, man; try the velvet!"

(Blind Amos.)

Taking a stroll in the country one bright spring morning, sudden turn in the road brought me to a clear, running stream. A little rustic bridge was thrown across it, and the whole scene formed such a pretty picture, I stopped to gaze upon it. While thus engaged a steady-looking errand-boy came posting over the bridge, with a shallow basket full of packages hanging on his arm. At the same instant a merry little lad appeared in the opposite direction, and carelessly running past the other, inadvertently pushed against his basket, and knocking it over, more than half the contents were sent rolling in the dust. The colour mounted to the errand-boy's cheeks in a moment — his eyes flashed, he threw down the basket, and prepared to avenge the affront and give battle-royal to his adversary. The innocent author of the mischief, however, looked up in his face with a pleasant smile, and exclaimed, "Now, really, I'm so sorry; but I'll help you to pick them all up again as fast as I can, and you see it wasn't as if I'd done it on purpose!" All anger thereupon vanished from the countenance of the aggrieved party, who was not one of those implacable beings on whom "a soft answer" is thrown away. The two boys set cheerfully to work, and soon replaced the fallen goods, after which, with light hearts, they went whistling on their different roads. I pursued mine, musing on the wisdom of the cottage lad, and thinking how many quarrels, great and small, might be avoided by timely acknowledgment and ready explanation. There seemed something beyond mere good-nature in our little rustic; was not perhaps his simple reply an "answer of the tongue from the Lord"?

The celebrated Aboo Yusuph, who was chief judge of Bagdad, in the reign of the Caliph Hadee, was a very remarkable instance of that humility which distinguishes true wisdom. His sense of his own deficiencies often led him to entertain doubts, where men of less knowledge and more presumption were decided. "It is related of this judge, that on one occasion, after a very patient investigation of facts, he declared that his knowledge was not competent to decide upon the case before him. 'Pray, do you expect,' said a pert courtier, who heard this declaration, that the Caliph is to pay for your ignorance?' 'I do not,' was the mild reply: 'the Caliph pays me, and well, for what I do know; if he were to attempt to pay me for what I do not know, the treasures of his empire would not suffice.'"

(Malcolm's "Persia.")

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