Proverbs 20:17
Food gained by fraud is sweet to a man, but later his mouth is full of gravel.
Bread and GravelAlexander MaclarenProverbs 20:17
Religion, Industry, Prudence, and HonestyE. Johnson Proverbs 20:12-19


1. Of all bodily good. The eye, the ear, with all their wondrous mechanism, with all their rich instrumentality of enjoyment, are from him.

2. Of all spiritual faculty and endowment, the analogues of the former, and "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:16). The new heart, the right mind, should, above all, be recognized as his gifts.

3. In domestic and in public life. Good counsels of Divine wisdom, and willing obedience of subjects to them, are the conditions of the weal of the state; and it may be that these are designed by the preacher under the figures of the eye and the ear.


1. Laborlousness. (Ver. 13) This is a command of God: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat;" for which the seeing eye and hearing ear are needed. Viewed in one light, of imagination, labour may appear as a curse; for it thwarts our natural indolence, our love of ease, and our sentimental views in general. But viewed in the light of actual experience, the law of labour is one of the divinest blessings of our life-constitution.

2. Honesty.

(1) Craft and trickiness exposed. (Vers. 14, 17.) Here the cunning tricks of trade are struck; in particular the arts of disparagement, by which the buyer unjustly cheapens the goods he desires to invest in. The peculiar manner in which trade is still conducted in the East, the absence of fixed prices, readily admits of this species of unfairness. But the rebuke is general.

(2) The deceptiveness of sinful pleasures. (Ver. 17.) There is, no doubt, a certain pleasure in dishonesty, otherwise it would not be so commonly practised in the very teeth of self-interest. There is a peculiar delight in the exercise of skill which outwits others. But this is only while the conscience sleeps. When it awakes, unrest and trouble begin. The stolen gold burns in the pocket; the Dead Sea fruits turn to ashes on the lips.

3. Sense and prudence. (Vers. 15, 16, 18.)

(1) Sense is compared to the most precious things. What in the affairs of life is comparable to judgment? Yet compared only to be contrasted. As the common saying runs, "There is nothing so uncommon as common sense." The taste for material objects of price may be termed universal and vulgar; that for spiritual qualities is select and refined

(2) Good sense is shown caution and avoidance of undue responsibility. This has been before emphasized (Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18). We have enough to do to answer for ourselves.

(3) Prudence in war. There are justifiable wars; but even these may be carried on with folly, reckless disregard of human life, etc. "The beginning, middle, and end, O Lord, turn to the best account!" was the prayer of a prudent and pious general.

4. Reserve with the tongue, or caution against flatterers. (Ver. 19.) The verse may be taken in both these senses. In all thoughtless gossip about others there is something of the malicious and slanderous spirit; there is danger in it. As to the listener, rather let him listen to those who point out his faults than to those who flatter. - J.

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies.
Let me define my meaning in the use of this phrase — "the moral end of business." It is not the end for which property should be sought. It is not the moral purpose to be answered by the acquisition, but by the process of acquisition. And again, it is not the end of industry in general — that is a more comprehensive subject — but it is the end of business in particular, of barter, of commerce. "The end of business!" some one may say; "why, the end of business is to obtain property; the end of the process of acquisition is acquisition." I hold that the ultimate end of all business is a moral end. I believe that business — I mean not labour, but barter, traffic — would never have existed if there had been no end but sustenance. The animal races obtain subsistence upon an easier and simpler plan; but for man there is a higher end, and that is moral. The broad grounds of this position I find in the obvious designs of Providence, and in the evident adaptation to this moral end of business itself.

1. There is, then, a design for which all things were made and ordained, going beyond the things themselves. To say that things were made, or that the arrangements and relations of things were ordained, for their own sake, is a proposition without meaning. The world, its structure, productions, laws, and events, have no good nor evil in them — none, but as they produce these results in the experience of living creatures. The end, then, of the inanimate creation is the welfare of the living, and, therefore, especially of the intelligent creation. But the welfare of human beings lies essentially in their moral culture. We are not appointed to pass through this life barely that we may live. We are not impelled, both by disposition and necessity, to buy and sell, barely that we may do it; nor to get gain, barely that we may get it. There is an end in business beyond supply. There is an object in the acquisition of wealth beyond success. There is a final cause of human traffic, and that is virtue. With this view of the moral end of business falls in the constant doctrine of all elevated philosophy and true religion. Life, say the expounders of every creed, is a probation. Now, if anything deserves to be considered as a part of that probation, it is business. Life, say the wise, is a school. But the end of a lesson is that something be learned; and the end of business is, that truth, rectitude, virtue, be learned. This is the ultimate design proposed by Heaven, and it is a design which every wise man, engaged in that calling, will propose to himself. It is no extravagance, therefore, but the simple assertion of a truth, to say to a man so engaged, and to say emphatically, "You have an end to gain beyond success, and that is the moral rectitude of your own mind."

2. That business is so exquisitely adapted to accomplish that purpose, is another argument with me to prove that such, in the intention of its Ordainer, was its design. An honest man, a man who sincerely desires to attain to a lofty and unbending uprightness, could scarcely seek a discipline more perfectly fitted to that end than the discipline of trade. For what is trade? It is the constant adjustment of the claims of different parties, a man's self being one of the parties. This competition of rights and interests might not invade the solitary study, or the separate tasks of the workshop, or the labours of the silent field, once a day; but it presses upon the merchant and trader continually. Do you say that it presses too hard? Then, I reply, must the sense of rectitude be made the stronger to meet the trial. Every plea of this nature is an argument for strenuous moral effort. A man must do more than to attain to punctilious honesty in his actions; he must train his whole soul, his judgment, his sentiments and affections, to uprightness, candour, and good-will. I have thus attempted to show that business has an ultimate, moral end — one going beyond the accumulation of property.

3. This may also be shown to be true, not only on the scale of our private affairs, but on the great theatre of history. Commerce has always been an instrument in the hands of Providence for accomplishing nobler ends than promoting the wealth of nations. It has been the grand civiliser of nations. With its earliest birth on the Mediterranean shore, freedom was born. Phoenicia, the merchants of whose cities, Tyre and Sidon, were accounted princes; the Hebrew commonwealth, which carried on a trade through those parts; the Grecian, Carthaginian, and Roman States, were not only the freest, but they were the only free states of antiquity. In the middle ages commerce broke down in Europe, the feudal system, raising up, in the Hanse Towns, throughout Germany, Sweden, and Norway, a body of men who were able to cope with barons and kings, and to wrest from them their free charters and rightful privileges. In England its influence is proverbial; the sheet-anchor, it has long been considered, of her unequalled prosperity and intelligence. Its moral influences are the only ones of which we stand in any doubt, and these, it need not be said, are of unequalled importance. The philanthropist, the Christian, are all bound to watch these influences with the closest attention, and to do all in their power to guard and elevate them. It is upon this point that I wish especially to insist; but there are one or two topics that may previously claim some attention.(1) If, then, business is a moral dispensation, and its highest end is moral, I shall venture to call in question the commonly supposed desirableness of escaping from it — the idea which prevails with so many of making a fortune in a few years, and afterwards of retiring to a state of leisure. If business really is a scene of worthy employment and of high moral action, I do not see why the moderate pursuit of it should not be laid down in the plan of entire active life; and why, upon this plan, a man should not determine to give only so much time each day to his avocations as would be compatible with such a plan; only so much time, in other words, as will be compatible with the daily enjoyment of life, with reading, society, domestic intercourse, and all the duties of philanthropy and devotion.(2) Another topic is the rage for speculation. I wish to speak of it now in a particular view — as interfering, that is to say, with the moral end of business. It is not looking to diligence and fidelity for a fair reward, but to change and chance for a fortunate turn. It is drawing away men's minds from the healthful processes of sober industry and attention to business, and leading them to wait in feverish excitement as at the wheel of a lottery. To do business and get gain, honestly and conscientiously, is a good thing. It is useful discipline of the character. I look upon a man who has acquired wealth, in a laudable, conscientious, and generous pursuit of business, not only with a respect far beyond what I can feel for his wealth — for which indeed, abstractly, I can feel none at all — but with the distinct feeling that he has acquired something far more valuable than opulence. But for this discipline of the character, for the reasonableness and rectitude of mind which a regular business intercourse may form, speculation furnishes but a narrow field, if any at all; such speculation, I mean, as has lately created a popular frenzy in this country about the sudden acquisition of property. This insane passion for accumulation, ever ready, when circumstances favour, to seize upon the public mind, is that "love of money which is the root of all evil," that "covetousness which is idolatry." It springs from an undue, an idolatrous estimate of the value of property. Many are feeling that nothing — nothing will do for them or for their children but wealth; not a good character, not well-trained and well-exerted faculties, not virtue, not the hope of heaven — nothing but wealth. It is their god, and the god of their families.

(O. Dewey, D. D.)

The lips of knowledge are a precious Jewel
It is very difficult to control the noble faculty of speech, but it may be controlled. You may bridle it.

I. THE POWER OF SPEECH IS A GREAT ENDOWMENT. One of the essential distinctions between us and the mere animal. Expression is thus given to our power of thinking, which is another great endowment. The tongue is the heart's interpreter. Used as it may and ought to be, its influence is luminous as the light and fragrant as the rose. But what mischief it may work!

II. WE HAVE GREAT RESPONSIBILITY IN THE MATTER OF OUR SPEAKING. All our endowments involve an accountability proportionate to their magnitude and importance, and speech is no exception. The impression seems common that our words are of little importance, and that while actions must be accounted for, speaking is but a voice, and will not be recorded, or appear again to confront us. Every serious person must be sensible how heavily the burden of sins of speech presses on him.


1. Truth. Departure from truth is specially condemned. Untruth includes exaggerated statements.

2. Sincerity. Heart and lips must never be at variance.

3. Purity. This excludes levity in speaking of holy things.

4. Love. This will induce to active good.

IV. SPEECH IS CAPABLE OF CONTROL. How is it to be bridled?

1. By right thinking.

2. By watchfulness.

3. By correct habits.

4. By prayer.He that seemeth to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, that man's religion is vain.

(H. Wilkes, D. D.)

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