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The opinion therefore, that wisdom is a real person, or a distinct subsistence, and intelligent being, appears to be without foundation. It is much more reasonable to suppose, that wisdom is only a fictitious character, or personage introduced, in order to recommend to men more effectually, and with greater advantage, those rules of righteousness which it is of the highest importance they should regard.
II. I would now shew what is comprehended in wisdom.
By wisdom, in general, we are to understand the principles of order and proportion, both in the natural and the moral world: or the laws and rules of exact order and proportion in the things of nature, and the rules of discreet and virtuous conduct among rational and intelligent beings. This is the most general and comprehensive meaning of the word wisdom. And it is plainly used in this sense in the book of Proverbs, particularly in this chapter.
1. It includes, I say, the rules and principles of beauty, order and proportion in the things of nature: according to which rules God made the world, and disposed and adjusted the several parts of it. So in the 27th and following verses of this chapter: "When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; then I was by him, as one brought up with him and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." That is, all God's works of creation were performed in wisdom: and it was his will and pleasure to direct and command all things, according to the most perfect rules of order and proportion. The same thing is expressed elsewhere after this manner: "The Lord by wisdom has founded the earth: by understanding has he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew," ch. iii. 19, 20. This exquisite order and proportion in the several parts of nature are beautifully and forcibly described in the prophet Isaiah. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance ?" Is. xl. 12.
2. But though wisdom comprehends in it the rules of beauty and perfection, order and proportion, in natural things; yet you cannot but be sensible, that what Solomon in this book chiefly enlarges upon, and most earnestly recommends, is right conduct. Nor does he herè speak of the sacrifices of beasts, and offerings of the fruits of the earth, nor of external washings and purifications: the methods of which may be various, where no one of them is of absolute necessity: But the things he insists upon are the rules and principles of virtuous conduct: which are right and reasonable in themselves, and always and universally obligatory.
And because these moral rules and principles are the subjects of his discourse, therefore the lessons, which wisdom teaches and recommends, are represented and characterised, as right things, as proclaimed in the most public places, and as everlasting, or in being before the world was.
These rules and counsels of wisdom are said to be right and excellent. Thus at the sixth verse. "Hear, for I will speak of excellent things: and the opening of my lips shall be right things." The rules, which I deliver: the things, I recommend to men, are right, and fit. 'Their reasonableness and usefulness cannot be contested or gainsayed.'
They are also represented, as proclaimed in places of the greatest resort, and indeed in all places: because they are obvious to men's reason and understanding: and there are not a few who speak of them, and recommend them to others, who are less knowing: and because the judgment and conscience of all men in general assent to them, and not seldom put them in mind of them. This is the design of those expressions at the beginning of this chapter, and of other like expressions elsewhere. "Does not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of the high places, by the way, in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors." And ver. 8, 9, "All my words are in righteousness. There is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge." Every where her reasonable precepts are sounding in men's ears, and demanding attention and regard.
They are also always obligatory. And therefore are spoken of as ancient, eternal, and unalterable rules and maxims. ver. 22-26. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth
When there were no depths, I was brought forth-While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.”
These are general characters and properties of the rules and principles of wisdom, relating to the moral conduct of men.
And it should be observed, that wisdom with her principles, contains the rules and maxims of all right conduct, with dissuasives from every evil thing; particularly wisdom includes these several things:
1.) The fear of God, the first principle, and the most important branch of religion: which is much spoken of, and greatly recommended in this book of Proverbs, and in the book of Ecclesiastes, another work of the wise man, containing observations upon human affairs, and upon the divine providence and government of this world. "The fear of the Lord," says he, "is the beginning of wisdom," Prov. ix. 10; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. The fear of the Lord is strong confidence," ch. xiv. 26. "Let not thy heart envy sinners; but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long," ch. xxiii. 17. "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man," Eccl. xii. 13; the sum and substance of his duty, and his main interest and concern.
2.) Wisdom, with its principles and maxims, includes the rules and laws of sobriety and moderation for all earthly things. "The knowledge of the Lord is to hate evil. Pride and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate," Prov. viii. 13. And you know very well, that there are in this book many earnest dissuasives from all manner of excess and intemperance, and every thing contrary to purity. Ambition, vain conceit, immoderate love of pleasure and riches, haughtiness of speech and countenance, sloth and idleness, are here also condemned and exposed: and humility, modesty, diligence, and a teachable and inquisitive temper, are frequently recommended.
3.) Wisdom includes righteousness and equity toward other men. So this book begins: "The proverbs of Solomon:-to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the instruction of wisdom, justice and equity.' At the twentieth verse of the eighth chapter: "I lead in the midst of the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment." And in the twentyfirst chapter is that excellent remark: "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord, than sacrifice," ch. xxi. 3.
4.) Beside all these things, wisdom includes prudence, or a becoming regard, and discreet concern for our own interests. So Solomon in this chapter, drawing the character of wisdom, introduces her, saying: "I wisdom dwell with prudence. I find out knowledge of witty inventions," ch. viii. 12. Many are the prudential directions and cautions which are inserted in this collection of wise and judicious maxims and observations. And the importance and the advantage of prudence are often shewn. It is said: "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent looketh well to his going," Prov. xiv. 15. Agreeably to which the Psalmist observes : "A good man will guide his affairs with discretion," Ps. cxii. 5. or, as in the margin of our Bibles, with judgment, which is the same thing.
5.) Wisdom includes the laws of civil government, tending to the good order, peace and prosperity of large bodies and societies of men. Thus it is expressly said in this chapter: "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom. I am understanding, I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth," ver. 14, 15.
This is wisdom. It contains the principles of beauty, order and proportion in the things of nature, and all the branches of good conduct in men: particularly the fear of God, or a serious and awful, yet delightful and cheerful respect for the Divine Being, and sincere gratitude for all his benefits: sobriety, or the government of ourselves, and a just moderation of our affections for sensible things: justice, judgment and equity toward others: discretion in the management of our own affairs: and the just and equitable laws of civil government.
III. We should now consider, what is to be understood by loving wisdom, and seeking it. And hereby nothing more is meant, than a desire to be wise, and endeavours to attain to wisdom. To love wisdom is to esteem and prize it: to be persuaded, that its principles and rules must be right: and to be desirous to know and be acquainted with them, and the reasons of them: together with a sincere purpose, and firm resolution of mind, to walk by them, and make them the rule of our action. Such will use the means of improvement. The thoughts of
such will be much about this matter. They will hearken to instruction, and attend to their teachers. They will be inquisitive, and observe, and lay up, and meditate upon what they have heard. They will not be averse to counsel, or even reproof. This is seeking wisdom. Such are very likely to succeed in their pursuit, and to obtain their wishes and desires.
IV. Which brings us to the next point, the encouragement here afforded, and set before men, in these expressions: "I love them that love me: and they that seek me shall find me. Three things may be reckoned to be implied in this encouragement. Such shall attain to the knowledge of the principles of wisdom. They shall become wise, and act wisely and virtuously. They will have all the advantages which are annexed to the knowledge and observation of wise counsels and maxims.
1. They who love wisdom, and seek it, will attain to the knowledge of its rules and principles, and the ways it recommends. It is the design of the undertaking in this book of Proverbs, as declared at the beginning, (as it is also the design of all other like attempts) "to give knowledge to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." And in this eighth chapter: "All the words of my mouth are in righteousness. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge." That is, the knowledge of them is easy to be attained by those who are attentive. And they who have so much understanding, as to prize wisdom, will soon perceive how right and reasonable all its rules and precepts are.
Again, in the second chapter of this book: "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thy heart to understanding: yea if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding: if thou seekest for her, as for silver, and searchest for her, as for hid treasure:" that is, if thou be sincere and diligent in seeking after wisdom, as what thou esteemest very valuable: "then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity, yea every good work.
They who seek knowledge and understanding, who are sincerely desirous to be informed in . the principles of wisdom, will certainly become acquainted with all the rules and precepts which are of general importance, and suited to their rank and condition.
2. If you love and seek wisdom, you will become wise, discreet and virtuous, and make its maxims the rule of your conduct. So Solomon says in the So Solomon says in the just cited second chapter of this book: "When wisdom enters into thy heart, and knowledge is pleasant to thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things: who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the way of darkness.
He who loves wisdom, and labours sincerely to be acquainted with its principles, and perceives how right, and reasonable they are, must be disposed to observe and follow them: and will be prepared for, and fortified against the enticements of sinners, and the specious pretences of those who speak froward and perverse things.
3. Another thing included in this encouragement is, that they who love and seek wisdom, shall have the many advantages that are annexed to the knowledge, and practice, or observation of wise rules and maxims. This must be implied in the expressions here used of wisdom's "loving them that love her," and being "found of them that seek her." She will favour, prefer, and advance such, and cheerfully bestow upon them all the gifts and blessings which are in her disposal, and which indeed are great and manifold.
These are oftentimes affectionately set before men, in a variety of expressions, in order to determine their right chcice: which cannot but be much for their benefit.
"My son, forget not my law: but let thy heart keep my commandments. For length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add unto thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee. Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thy heart. So shalt thou find favour and good understanding, [or acceptance,] in the sight of God and man," Prov. iii. 1—4. And afterwards: " Happy is the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies. And all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold of her, and happy is every one that retaineth her," ver. 1818.
Again; "Keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding. Forget it not, neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee, She shall bring thee to honour, when thou shalt embrace her. She shall give to thy head an ornament of grace. A crown of glory shall she give unto thee. Hear, my son, and receive my sayings and the years of thy life shall be many," Prov. iv. 4-10.
Peace and tranquillity is one great advantage, mentioned in the passages already cited. Again it is said: "Thou shalt walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: Yea thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken," ch. iii. 23—26. And though it be true, that a "little, which a righteous man has, is better than the treasures of many wicked," Ps. xxxvii. 16; yet virtue and discretion do also tend to secure a competence; and often add, or give, great abundance: as it is said in a place before cited: " Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour," Prov. iii. 16. And, Through wisdom is an house builded, and by understanding it is established. And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches:" that is, with all things both for use and ornament. "A wise man is strong: yea a wise man increaseth strength,” Prov. xxiv. 3-5.
All these blessings are often, and with great assurance, spoken of as advantages usually attending wisdom: or as the happy lot and portion of those who value and seek it, and observe and obey its rules and directions; health and long life, riches and honour; that is, a competence, and sometimes abundance, and credit and honour therewith; safety and security, peace and quietness, and great satisfaction of mind.
I shall conclude all with some directions concerning the right manner of seeking wisdom. Seek it early, diligently, and with continuance, and decline the society of those who respect not the laws of wisdom.
1. Seek wisdom early, or without delay: now, immediately, apply yourselves to the study of the principles of wisdom, the rules of right conduct. Attend to the instructions given you, suitable to your age and condition, by those who are knowing, and are concerned for your welfare and prosperity, both in soul and body. And now, immediately, form in your minds a fixed purpose and resolution of living and acting by those rules which appear just, wise, and reasonable.
2. Seek wisdom diligently. Let not time run waste, without employment. Let not whole days be lost in sloth and idleness: but be concerned to make daily improvement in some part of useful knowledge. Let the rules and maxims of wisdom be thought of, and meditated upon early and late. Let her principles be familiar to your minds, and always entertaining and delightful. So will they occur to you when they should be brought into action, and when you are in danger of being seduced to act contrary to them.
3. You must also endeavour to continue in this your love and affection for wisdom, and careful attention to her, because of our natural weakness and inconstancy, and because there are temptations and tempters: and you are in danger, if you are off your guard, of being misled by the enticements, or the provocations, of those you meet with.
4. Therefore let me add: decline as much as possible familiarity and intimacy with those who shew no respect to the laws of wisdom: who have little or no worth: who possess, indeed, the human shape and intellect, but aim at no improvement: who rashly and inconsiderately venture to make a jest of sin, and despise wisdom, because it is too high for them: who are pleased with the worthless trash of sensual enjoyments: but have no taste of perfection and beauty, order and proportion, and the principles thereof, either in the natural, or the moral world: whose views and prospects are narrow and confined, low and base, like the "very beasts that perish," Ps. xlix. 12, 20; minding nothing but present objects: neither looking forward to future time, nor observing the consequences and tendencies of things present. Reckon yourselves to be above such contemptible people; and disdain to follow either their counsel or their example.
These are they that love wisdom. These she loves. They that so seek her shall find her, and be blessed with all the precious things in her gift.
Let not, then, any immoderate love of pleasure, or ease, or much riches, or high honour and preferment, enter into the mind, to damp this reasonable principle, this excellent and becoming,
this virtuous and hopeful disposition, the love of wisdom. But let this always be the prevailing, the governing, influencing principle of your minds. "Exalt wisdom and she will promote you.' Esteem and study her rules and maxims, constantly obey her precepts, and decline not from her paths." She will, then, bring you to honour, and crown you with durable riches and righteousness."
LITTLE CHILDREN BROUGHT TO CHRIST.
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them. Matt. xix. 13, 14, 15.
It was now near the conclusion of our Saviour's ministry and life on this earth. He was in a place beyond Jordan, from whence he went up to Jerusalem, where he suffered.
This particular history being related by three evangelists, it is likely, that it contains something which may be of use for our direction or encouragement. St. John indeed has not taken any notice of it. But you are sensible, that he had seen the three former gospels before he wrote: and therefore he very rarely gives an account of such things as had been sufficiently related already by one or more of the other evangelists.
In St. Mark's gospel this history is recorded after this manner, ch. x. 13: " And they brought young children unto him, that he should touch them. And his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15. Verily, I say unto you: whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them,
and blessed them."
St. Luke says, ch. xviii. 15: "And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16. But Jesus called them unto him, and said: Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17. Verily, I say unto you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein."
These are the accounts which the evangelists have given us of this matter,
I shall endeavour to make an improvement of this history by considering these several particulars:
I. Who were now brought to Christ.
II. For what end they were brought to him.
III. The reception he gave them; which at the very first view may be perceived to be kind and gracious.
IV. The declaration made concerning them, that "of such is the kingdom of heaven,” "the kingdom of God."
1. The first particular to be considered by us is, who were now brought to Christ.
In St. Matthew they are styled little children. In one place of St. Mark we have, in our version, young children: but in the original it is still one and the same word; which therefore throughout those two evangelists should be uniformly rendered little children.
In St. Luke they are called infants: a word, which, as the critics in the Greek language say, comprehends any children from the time of their birth, till they are four years of age. It the same word which we have in another text: " Knowing, that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures," 2 Tim. iii. 15.
That these were little children may be inferred from a circumstance mentioned in St. Mark, that Jesus" took them in his arms."
Their tender age may be argued likewise from hence: that it is not said of Christ, that he taught them, or asked them any questions.