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Lord Jesus, and for his after exaltation: by which their hearts were won to God, and they were established, and upheld in the practice of virtue, under all the difficulties they met with here, until they were brought to glory.
10. Though duties of moral obligation have the preference above others, yet positive appointments, of divine authority, are not to be omitted or neglected. These also have their use, and are expedient in the present state of things. They were wisely appointed, and therefore ought to be submitted to and obeyed. It is our Lord's own determination upon the point: "These ought ye to have done :" meaning the weightier matters of the law: " and not to leave the other undone," Luke xi. 42.
11. Finally, let us not rest satisfied with observing positive appointments, or with any external performances, or the profession of the principles of religion, or a partial obedience: but let us sincerely do the whole will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it.
It may afford matter of sorrowful thought and consideration, that so many are far from that righteousness which is recommended both by reason and revelation: that so few are eminent therein and likewise that there are others whose character is but doubtful, both to themselves and others.
However, our main business is not to lament, or aggravate the faults or defects of others: but to amend our own. And since there is reason to fear, that many will hereafter seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and shall not be able: since we have the prospect of a rest remaining for the people of God, let us take heed that we fail not thereof.
If any are able to assure their hearts before God, as sincere and upright, and have a comfortable hope of the future heavenly inheritance reserved for his children: let them take the comfort of it. If ever we attain that felicity, we shall have clearer apprehensions of these truths, than now we have, and shall be ennobled by them. Now we know but in part, and prophesy but in part, and are sanctified but in part. "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part," all imperfection, of every kind, " shall be done away," 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10.
WISDOM ATTAINABLE BY THOSE WHO SEEK IT.
Prov. viii. 17.
I love them that love me. And they that seek me early, shall find me. THE book of Proverbs is a large collection of excellent rules, maxims, and observations, for directing the conduct of men of every age, and almost every circumstance and condition of life. A particular regard is herein had to persons of tender age, unexperienced, and entering into the world. Counsels are delivered with much affection and earnestness. The same things are repeated, and inculcated again and again. The attention of men is excited by frequent representations of the importance of right conduct, and of the snares they are exposed to, by which they are in danger of being misled to their utter ruin.
More effectually to recommend the reasonable and useful counsels and observations here proposed, they are often delivered in the name of Wisdom. Wisdom herself is introduced, as teaching these things. So at the beginning of this chapter: "Doth not Wisdom cry, and Understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way, in the places of the paths:Unto you, O men, I call: and my voice is to the sons of men. And, as an encouragement to all to hearken to her, and pursue the rules she lays down, she says in the words of the text: "I love them that love me: and they that seek me early, shall find me."
If it were a thing of any moment, I might just observe to you, that what in our English translation is rendered, seek early, is but one word in the original. The Hebrew therefore might be as well rendered, they that seek me, shall find me. However, our translators have not done much amiss in adding something concerning the best manner of seeking wisdom: or in expressing what may be supposed to be implied in the word. "I love them that love me: and they that seek me early," or diligently, "shall find me.”
Without any farther preface, I would now immediately lay down the method in which I intend to discourse on these words.
I. In the first place I shall endeavour to shew how we are to understand the word wisdom, as used in the book of Proverbs.
II. I shall shew what is comprehended in wisdom.
III. I shall consider, what is to be understood by loving wisdom, and seeking it.
IV. I shall observe the encouragement, here set before men, to seek wisdom: they shall find it.
V. And then conclude with directions for the right manner of seeking it.
I. I shall endeavour to shew how we are to understand the word wisdom as used in the book of Proverbs.
Hereby some have understood a real person, and even a divine person. And this their opinion is founded chiefly, I think, upon some expressions in this eighth chapter. As ver. 15, By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, and all the judges of the earth:" And especially those words in ver. 22, 23: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."
But the meaning of these words I take to be this: that God himself is wise, and before he 'created the world he had wisdom in himself: and that the laws of righteousness, and the rules. ⚫ of right conduct, are everlasting and unchangeable.'
It is agreeable to the stile of this book, not to understand by wisdom a real person, but an attribute, or property clothed with a personal character, or a feigned personage introduced. In like manner it has been very common for polite writers to introduce justice, or virtue, or wisdom, or prudence, delivering rules and counsels to men, or reproving their folly and extravagance. Sometimes they are represented looking down, at other times coming down from heaven to visit the abodes of mortals: or, in the style of the Proverbs, men, the sons of men: calling aloud to them, dehorting them from their evil ways, and perverse wanderings, and inviting them into the paths of truth and happiness; which reason, and the considerations of their own true interest prescribe to them.
The personage introduced in this book in the name and character of wisdom is represented to be a queen, or a wealthy matron or lady: for her servants, or attendants, are maidens. She is brought in as a matron, living in great credit. Her house is a spacious and lofty building, adorned with a magnificent portico at the entrance, consisting of seven, or many pillars. She there makes an entertainment, and invites people to come and partake of her provisions; that is, to hear and receive the rules and principles of knowledge and virtue.
This is beautifully expressed at the beginning of the ninth, the following chapter: "Wisdom has builded her house: she has hewn out her seven pillars: she has killed her beasts: she has mingled her wine: she has also furnished her table: she has sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places in the city," Prov. i. 21. Or, as in another place: "She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates. In the city she uttereth her words:" that is, in the most public and frequented places, where there is usually the greatest resort of people: "Whoso is simple let him turn in hither.” She rejects not the weakest, and the most deluded. If they will but attend, she will teach them what is fit and becoming: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. As for him that wanteth understanding, she says to him: Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding."
This stately dwelling, or palace of wisdom, where men may receive instruction, is alluded to at ver. 34th of this chapter: "Blessed is the man that heareth me watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my door."
Moreover wisdom is used in this book, as equivalent to understanding or instruction. "Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?" Prov. viii. I. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getting understanding," ch. iii. 13. And, "Take fast hold of instruction. Let her not go. Keep her, for she is thy life," ch. iv. 13. If understanding and instruction are not persons, what reason is there to think that wisdom is so?
And agreeable to this account is that affectionate counsel: "Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister and to understanding, thou art my kinswoman," ch. vii. 4.
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 peak 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 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.